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Friday, July 18, 2014

Games Creatures Play Anthology

by Terrance Mc Arthur

I like short-story anthologies. They’re like the all-you-can-eat buffet of the publishing world. You get to sample all sorts of things. Authors you know bring out dishes that may be familiar, but with different ingredients. Unfamiliar writers are like foods you’ve never tried before, but you can scoop up a small serving of short stories without having to commit to the whole meal of a novel.

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Charlaine Harris (the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire mysteries that inspired the True Blood TV series) and Toni L. P. Kelner have made a cottage industry of themed horror anthologies, featuring some popular writers and some wanna-become-popular writers. They have tackled everything from education to home improvement, birthdays to vacations, coming up with some fascinating collections of short stories. What have they come up with next? Sports and games.

Games Creatures Play brings together fifteen authors and their stories, taking a swing at recreational activities from graceful ice skating to brutal lacrosse, traditional baseball to unconventional versions of hide-and-seek, sophisticated fencing to down-and-dirty roller derby.

Image source: Ace

Some are funny, some are scary. Some are gruesome, and some are fairly tame. Each story has its own charms and will attract its own set of fans, but this umpire found a few that hit home runs:

• Scott Sigler’s “The Case of the Haunted Safeway” mixes Ghostbusters with Field of Dreams on the site of a former ballpark in San Francisco, where an eighty-year-old tragedy is re-enacted in ways that the frozen food section was never built to accommodate. It includes pleas for tolerance and how families must learn to accept and nurture the capabilities of their children.
• “Hide and Shriek,” by Adam-Troy Castro, comes off as H. P. Lovecraft horror as it might be told by Douglas (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) Adams, where all=powerful creatures compete childishly to destroy worlds and are embarrassed by the results. It is raucous and silly—I liked it.
• “Dead on the Bones” is a no-rules, river-bottom fight that starts out as a community entertainment with a bit of voodoo, until it turns into revenge. Written by horror master Joe Lonsdale, it’s big on atmosphere and strong medicine.
• Caitlin Kittredge’s “The Devil Went Down to Boston” combines traditional Celtic lore with typical bar games and a deal with a demon into a winning deal.
• “On the Fields of Blood” offers time travel and lacrosse, and delivers a frightening, violent tale by Brendan DuBois.
• Mercedes Lackey penned “False Knight on the Road,” which pits moonshine runners against something else, a vehicle that might have origins beyond their understanding.

The editors have their stories, too. Harris returns to Sookie Stackhouse to introduce Manfred Bernardo, a character from her next series of books, in “In the Blue Hereafter.”

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Community Librarian for the WoW! (WithOut Walls) Division of the Fresno County Public Library, roaming the Valley to meet the public's information needs.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The White Magic Five & Dime By Steven Hockensmith and Lisa Falco

by Cynthia Chow

When loan modifications officer Alanis MacLachlan receives a call concerning her mother, the only question is does she need money or has she died? After not having communicated with her mother for the past twenty years, Alanis is relieved to know that it is the latter. Apparently, Athena Passalis, aka Barbra Harper, interrupted a burglary in her tarot shop and Alanis is now the sole heir of the White Magic Five and Dime New Age store in Berdache, Arizona.

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Alanis, as Sophie Harper, was raised in casinos and trained by her con artist mother to view everyone as either a con or as a mark whose emotions were a weakness to be exploited. As a result, the news that Alanis has also inherited Clarice Stewart, a seventeen year-old tenant and store clerk, is neither welcome nor a sentimental souvenir of her mother’s life. Further bad news arrives in the form of Josh Logan, a Berdache detective who has his suspicions about Alanis's legal intentions as well as her possible involvement in the murder. While she doesn't have any fuzzy memories or good feelings towards her mother, Alanis does feel that she owes her mother justice.

Studying the hilarious and rather informative how-to tarot book, Infinite Roads to Knowing by Miss Chance, Alanis takes over her mother's clients in the hopes of determining who may have been unhappy enough with her predictions to want her dead. As she investigates, Alanis discovers while Athena always had her eyes on the prize, she also brought a surprising amount of peace to her clients.

Image source: Midnight Ink

The author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the Holmes on the Range series places his trademark of twisted humor, wordplay banter, and acerbic wit on this absolutely delightful mystery. Alanis protects herself with a shield of whip-smart sarcastic wit and a brash, jaded attitude. The narrative reveals the true tragedy of Alanis's past, from her lonely early training in the art of the con to the fate of her surrogate father. The authors seamlessly blend this with humor, very human characters, and an intricate plot to ensure readers will be thoroughly entertained. This is a mystery like no other, an ending no one can predict, and a heroine who is as savvy, funny, and strong as she is vulnerable.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fleur de Lies: A Passport to Murder Mystery By Maddy Hunter

by Cynthia Chow

As owner of Destinations Travel Company with her new husband Etienne, Emily Miceli is charged with herding her geriatric tourists through various locations with a minimal loss of life or sanity. Her track record's been pretty abysmal on this though, as death seems to always follow. Accompanying a tour group of funeral planners does seem to tempt fate.

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With Etienne at home in Windsor City, Iowa, Emily is on her own with her troupe of septuagenarian, octogenarians, and nonagenarians. At least her Nana is along as they traverse through the World War II sites vital to both France's and America's history. Less helpful is the presence of Emily's ex-husband Jack Potter, now Jackie Thum, fully a lady and a representative of Mona Michelle, the cosmetics company whose sellers are as cutthroat as they are beautiful. Jackie may be experienced in cosmetics and fashion but she is an infant in the art of warfare of Mean Girls cliques.

When a death occurs and Jackie assumes that she was the target, Emily and her phone-addicted twittering herd of seniors are on the case as they visit historically sites between rushed runs on the buffet. Emily’s patience may be tested by her senior sleuths, but they always have her back and prove to be resourceful social media fiends.

Image source: Midnight Ink

The fun of this mystery comes in the twists and turns crafted by a talented author. Just when I thought I identified both murderer and motive, the rug was pulled out from under me with a surprising ending. The author a plays fair though in this humorous mystery filled with eccentric characters. The mystery remains logical as the beauty and history of France shines through. The strong writing and hilarity never overshadow the sentiment or realism of a powerful mystery. Fun and entertaining, Hunter fills this series with characters who may try Emily's patience and test her sanity but whose loyalty to their guide never waivers.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Friday, June 13, 2014

Reckless Disregard: A Parker Stern Novel By Robert Rotstein

by Cynthia Chow

Details on how to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

Civil litigation hit the digital age when Hollywood mogul William “The Conqueror” Bishop files a lawsuit against the pseudonymous game designer “Poniard,” claiming that the video game Abduction! enacts a scenario libelously accusing Bishop of murdering a long-missing starlet.

Breaking into Judicial Alternative Dispute Solutions’ internal chat server, Poniard demands that Parker Stern represent him against Bishop’s lawsuit to shut down the game along with claims for punitive damages. Since the death of his mentor, the once dazzling litigator suffers from paralyzing panic attacks in the courtroom and now limits himself to arbitrations. However, Poniard refuses to take no for an answer and threatens to reveal Parker’s dark past as a child star if he refuses to take the case.

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Feeling cornered and still protective of the past he has attempted to put behind him, Parker takes the case that directly pits him against Lovely Diamond, one of Bishop’s attorneys and, as her name might suggest, a woman with her own scandalous past. That she happens to also have recently broken Parker’s heart makes the case even messier, especially when she is aligned with Parker’s nemesis Louis Frantz. Along with the anti-anxiety drugs that allow him to enter a courtroom, Parker engages the unorthodox aid of JADS case assistant Brenda Sica and paralegal/computer-hacker sexagenarian Phillip Paulson. Parker will need all of the help he can get, as he will face a less-than-helpful client with a cadre of dress-up followers, an opposing attorney who knows too many of his secrets, and a movie mogul whose power stems from his ruthlessness.

Image source: Seventh St. Books

Utilizing snappy dialogue, dexterous courtroom manipulations, and skillful interrogatories, Parker and his team are the underdogs who battle against the dark crimes of Hollywood, all the while continuing to entertain readers with their jaded humor and perseverance.

The sarcastic wit and humor that made the first Parker Stern novel, Corrupt Practices, so enjoyable continues to be present here and prevents the novel from descending into a dark tone despite the focus on victimization and powerlessness. Intersecting chapters narrated from the viewpoint of a young boy playing the Abduction! game elaborates on Parker’s own first person narration without distracting or disrupting the pace. Equally fascinating are Parker’s real childhood ties to an abusive cult and the role-playing, cult-like followers of Poniard and his games. Entertainment attorney Robert Rotstein once again incorporates his knowledge and experience into this very fun courtroom thriller that succeeds in making court depositions as riveting as the corruption and perversity of Hollywood.

To enter to win a copy of Reckless Disregard, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Reckless,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 21, 2014. U.S. residents only.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Friday, June 6, 2014

Death Runs Adrift: A Gray Whale Inn Mystery By Karen MacInerney

by Cynthia Chow

Some of the best decisions Natalie Barnes ever made were to quit her job in Parks and Recreation, leave Texas, and move to Maine to open the Gray Whale Inn as a bed and breakfast on Cranberry Island. Natalie is now engaged to handsome handyman and woodworker John, and is making plans for their wedding in Florida. Her future mother-in-law Catherine’s unexpected move into the carriage house worked out well, although Natalie is nervous about living together and moving into John's home. Now if only there weren't so many murders...

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A set of unidentified bones were discovered during the excavation of a swimming pool for Murray Selfridge, the local real estate mogul who’s intent on developing the island into a destination resort, closing the schools, and lowering his own tax burden. He is disliked by nearly everyone on the island; everyone except for Catherine, whom he is currently dating. Unfortunately, it's a set of more recent remains that disrupt Natalie's peace of mind. While picking blueberries, Natalie stumbles across a body in a boat. Early suspicion falls on the boyfriend of Natalie's artistic niece. Certain the hard-working lobsterman is innocent, Natalie questions the victim's family. She uncovers drug use on the island, competitive lobstermen, and a surprising connection between the island and prohibition. It's a balancing act between hosting guests, preparing meals and planning her upcoming nuptials. Wedding stress always lies in the back of Natalie's mind, especially when a disaster completely upsets plans for a small, intimate ceremony.

Image source: Midnight Ink

In this sixth Gray Whale Inn Mystery descriptions of absolutely delectable foods are seamlessly incorporated into the story, enhancing the novel without distracting from the plot. Recipes are included at the end, but the details of Natalie's preparations are enough to satisfy the most dedicated of foodies. Natalie's good humor, loyalty to her friends, and relentless pursuit of the truth continue to keep this a very strong series that remains fresh and allows for growth in the characters; all the while revealing the darkness that continues to intrude on their beautiful island.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Friday, May 2, 2014

Rescue by Earl Staggs: A Short Story Featuring Tall Chambers

by Sandra Murphy

You know the feeling you get when a book is so good you don’t want it to end? On the other hand, you just have to know who did what and if they got caught. You want more, right away but the author is still writing the next book and then you have to wait and wait for the editing, printing, distribution–and like cotton candy, that one is gone too fast too.

Well, good news for fans of Earl Stagg’s Tall Chambers (Justified Action, reviewed at KRL). To tide you over until the next book comes out, Staggs has written a long short story (seventeen pages or so) so you can get your fix.

It starts with a bus enroute to Abu Dhabi. Muslim terrorists plan to enter the crowded street festival and open fire. Tall’s mission is to put a stop to that plan before it even starts. The terrorists will be given the option to surrender. If they choose to die for their beliefs, who is Tall to deny them?

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The bus is stopped by the simple expedient of exploding a bomb in the road just as the bus comes along. One of the terrorist, a woman, shows no fear and jumps out to threaten Ben, Tall and the rest with an eight inch knife. Really, a knife to a gun fight? But like I said, she shows no fear and frankly, looks more than a little crazy. Before Tall can say anything, his phone vibrates an incoming call. Talk about bad timing! When the President of the United States calls or in this case, his representative, you answer! I won’t ruin the rest of the scene except to say, in the midst of a scary situation, there’s a good bit of humor.

Tall’s agency is made up of twenty-five operatives and a half dozen computer experts, most ex-military. Whenever, wherever, terrorists are due to strike and kill innocent bystanders, Tall’s teams are ready to stop them–by whatever means necessary.
The phone call was about a terrorist who was set to defect but somehow got hold of weapons. Now there’s a standoff. Tall’s team is ready to move within minutes. It’s a hostage situation.

Image source: Earl Staggs

To say much more would be to give too much of the story away. There’s a twist at the end, lots of shooting, a hint of romance and a darn good story. The characters are people you’d like and even better, want to know they have your back. There’s a lot of action, gunfire and people are killed but that’s not explained in detail, thankfully.

If you, like me, are waiting for the next installment of Tall’s story and need a little something to tide you over, this will hit the spot. Until then, all I can say is, Earl, write faster!

Earl Staggs earned a long list of Five Star reviews for his novels Memory of a Murder and Justified Action. He has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, is a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery and a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. Email: earlstaggs@sbcglobal[dot]net Website: earlwstaggs.wordpress.com

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble. You can also find several of Sandra's short stories on UnTreed Reads including Bananas Foster.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Finisher by David Baldacci

by Terrance McArthur

It used to be that you could trust writers. If somebody wrote romances, their next book would have a handsome, brooding hero and a stunning young woman in a torrid tale of lust. Horror writers could be depended on to do their best to scare the daylights out of you and give you sleepless nights. Then—things changed.

Anne Rice abandoned her vampires and witches to explore the life of Jesus of Nazareth. John Grisham came out with the Theodore Bloom: Kid Lawyer series for children. In this world of follow-the-bouncing-author, the readers can’t be sure of what they’re getting when they pick up their favorite author’s latest book.

A number of these crossover writers have discovered the children’s and Young Adult fields. Case in point: The Finisher, by David Baldacci.

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Instead of the expected gritty political thriller, Baldacci has delivered a dystopian fantasy for the YA crowd.

Vega Jane is a finisher, decorating nice things in the Stacks factory of Wormwood. She has never been outside of Wormwood—nobody has, because the town is surrounded by the Quag, a forest filled with monsters…and worse things. Nobody enters the Quag…until Vega Jane sees the other finisher, her mentor, go into the forest…being chased.

Image source: Scholastic

Not only has Quentin Herms gone where no one would go, he has left the girl clues to puzzle out, clues that lead her to magical objects, help her discover powers within her, and put her into conflict with the rulers of Wormwood.

Baldacci has filled his world with familiar YA plot devices: a world built on lies (The City of Ember, Matched), enchanted help (pick a Harry Potter book), and a sibling lured away by dangerous adversaries (A Wrinkle in Time, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). Nevertheless, he manages to place a unique twist on familiar ideas.

There are also elements that surprise and delight. A faithful friend who is despised by others turns out to have a good reason for his disability, rooted in the deceptions of Wormwood.

Baldacci peppers his prose with word substitutions (a day is a light, a man is a male, a second is a sliver, a school is a Learning) and made-up creatures (Jabbits, anyone?). Maybe future editions will include a lexicon, like the Ape-English dictionary at the back of Tarzan of the Apes.

Vega Jane is one of those protagonists that overcome obstacles that have never been overcome until she comes along. Put her in a no-rules fighting tournament against men and boys bigger and stronger than she is, and you know what will happen, but you probably won’t know how.

The Finisher
is the first book of a series, so don’t expect all the answers or an ending. The Finisher is a beginning.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Community Librarian for the WoW! (WithOut Walls) Division of the Fresno County Public Library, roaming the Valley to meet the public's information needs.