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Archive for January, 2013

Historical Fiction Review and Book Give Away – Semper Fidelis

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013


Semper Fidelis by Ruth Downie


Review by Jerelyn H. (I-F-Letty)



Like old friends come to visit.

I’ve missed Ruso and Tilla, and I am so glad to spend time with them once again.  Ruth Downie’s thoroughly likeable characters are back, and nothing has changed.  Tilla’s advocacy for her native countrymen will inevitably cause troubles for Ruso.  Ruso has rejoined the 20th legion and not all is well, the native recruits are suffering from “accidents” and unexplained deaths, is the 20th legion cursed?  What does the Centurion Germius have to do with this?  Is the Tribune Accius covering for his elder brother?   And if that isn’t enough, the Emperor Hadrian is coming to Britannia, and Ruso has been told to stop asking questions, (like that’s going to happen).

For me the mystery is secondary when I read Downie’s books. They keep me turning the pages, but it is her humor that I find irresistible. I love Downie’s quirky characters, and the honesty that she brings to Tilla and Ruso’s relationship. An officer of the Empire married to one of the barbarian hoard, he sees the iniquities of the natives, and is at a loss as how to balance these two worlds. Tilla’s view of things is very black or white, and having been raised in a society where women are more or less equal finds it difficult to be a subservient Roman wife.  She wants to be more than the wife of the Medicus, but how to bring this about is a problem.

I am a true fan of this series, and Semper Fidelis is a great addition to continuing story of the Medicus Ruso and his lovely wife Tilla.  4.5 stars


The Medicus Series

Book one: Medicus

Book two: Terra Incognita

Book three: Persona non Grata

Book four: Caveat Emptor

Book five: Semper Fidelis




Leave a comment for a chance to win a hard bound copy of RUTH DOWNIE’S SEMPER FIDELIS compliments of Bloomsbury, Ruth and the PBS blog.  A winner will be chosen at random. Good Luck!





Mystery Monday Review – Ask For Me Tomorrow

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Ask For Me Tomorrow by Margaret Millar


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)



Gilda was married to B.J. Lockwood, a nice guy that bad stuff just happened to since he never learned from experience and was too dumb to foresee the risks of impulsive decisions. His decision to run off with their pregnant 15-year-old house girl back to her natal village in Mexico left Gilda at loose ends. Gilda then married Marco, who had a paralyzing stroke soon after their nuptials.

Wanting to conclude unfinished business with B.J., Gilda hires young lawyer Tom Aragon to go down Mexico way and find him. Though he’s by no means an experienced detective, Tom is bilingual and quickly finds out B.J. and a con man named Jenkins were jailed on fraud charges. Their hapless plan to convert a poor Baja California village into a resort transformed into a criminal enterprise mainly because they were both out of their financial league. As Tom gets closer to his quarry B.J., however, three brutal murders eliminate informants.  I found the ending a surprising hoot, while harder to please, less willing to be tricked readers of mystery may be less impressed.

Millar’s settings of Southern California and Mexico feel authentic and evocative though the attacks on the corruption endemic in both places may put off readers who like those places. The dialogue is snappy and funny, but sometimes we wonder if it is likely that sleazy Mexican cops out of Touch of Evil would really come up with such witty rejoinders. Many scenes shine as Gilda and Tom interact with each other, mainly by phone, and with a variety of curious characters. I think the exposition, dialogue and characterization make this one worth reading.

Margaret Millar was married to Kenneth Millar who wrote mysteries under the pen name of Ross Macdonald. If you like Macdonald, you will probably like Millar.

YA Paranormal Review – Touched

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Touched by Corrine Jackson

Review by Kelsey O.


Remy O’Malley’s life isn’t easy. Her mother is married to an abusive man who only wants the child support check that her father sends every month. On top of that she has a mysterious power to heal people with touch. The side-effect to that is for every injury she cures it becomes hers. She has healed her mother over and over again and has even had to endure pain without healing to hide her abilities. After the worst beating of her life, Remy is sent to live with her estranged father and meets a boy just as strange as her, Asher Blackwell, only to find out that they are enemies. Asher is a Protector and immortal and his kind hunt down her kind.


I was instantly grabbed from page one. Right away I felt for Remy and knew that her journey was going to be tough. Being abused and being different without knowing why leads to some very deep scarring. This was about Remy’s turn to be healed. Even though I felt that Asher was not a original described character, I still enjoyed his story. He compliments Remy well and their growing attraction leads to some tense moments.


The intertwining of fantasy and reality was effortlessly done. The story managed to deal with real issues but added the fantasy element that makes for intriguing reading. All the characters interact well together and support the main characters. Perfect read for the lovers of YA paranormal.



Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Foot-Loose Doll

Monday, January 14th, 2013

The Case of the Foot-Loose Doll by Erle Stanley Gardner


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


Usually mysteries starring super-lawyer Perry Mason open in Mason’s office. However, Gardner departs from custom with one of the longest first chapters that he ever wrote in his 75- Mason-book output. In the initial chapter, about ten percent of the book, he tells the odd story of Mildred Crest and the mess she landed in.

A working woman, Mildred receives a double blow. Her fiancée breaks their engagement and vanishes with funds he purloined from his accounting firm.  She then does what lots of Americans do when they are agitated: she jumps into her car and drives around aimlessly.

Distraught and thus distracted from noticing another person is as desperate as she is, she gives a girl hitchhiker a lift. The hitchhiker grabs the wheel and the car plunges down into a Southern California abyss. Mildred then does what anybody would when presented with the chance to start a new life. She assumes the identity of the dead hitchhiker.

The problem, of course, is that we should be really picky about just whose identity we filch. The hitchhiker has a past. It catches up with Mildred in the guise of a blackmailing PI. The dodgy PI gets an icepick in his chest.  Poor Mildred, who has just made a couple unfortunate choices anybody could’ve chosen, finds herself up against charges that she snuffed both the hitchhiker and the blackmailer.

Like Dame Agatha, Gardner was not a producer of pretty prose. For instance, in this one his subtle wit names a hotel Vista del Camino – A View of the Road. What distinguishes his writing is the sheer narrative power – once started, must finish! Also, he plays lots of enjoyable tricks with two bullets or multiple guns so in this one it is six – count ‘em, six – icepicks.

To me, the lasting attraction of Gardner’s fiction is that the deadly issues of improper police procedures, eyewitness misidentification and incorrect understanding of circumstantial evidence are still dangerous issues for people today who wittingly or not fall afoul of our criminal justice system. Recall, it is a system that is staffed by human beings, entities not known for perfection.

Persuaded in their own minds that Mildred is the perp, the police manipulate and prime an impressionable  eyewitness to misidentify Mildred as the one who bought the icepicks.  And witnesses may testify falsely, though they will swear up and down they are telling the truth (the research on witness unreliability turned my hair white). Because juries and judges are unduly receptive to eyewitness evidence, wrongful convictions are frequently caused by witness misidentifications.  Usually circumstantial  evidence – when it is correctly construed – is the best evidence. But in this story, the DA’s office misinterprets such evidence.

It’s an existential issue: cops, witnesses, juries, and judges may be convinced they are doing the right thing, but the reality is that they may be doing some poor joker – or Cousin Scooter, or you, or me  – a monstrous injustice. Hoo-boy. Who needs to read about ordinary people that make the usual unfortunate decisions and end up dealing with a hostile universe in Simenon, Camus or Sartre when you can read Erle Stanley Gardner?





Author Interview with Elizabeth Crane

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Interview with Author Elizabeth Crane by Greg VOSTROMO


ELIZABETH CRANE is the author of the critically-acclaimed short story collections When The Messenger is Hot, All This Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter.  Her work has been featured in numerous national magazines and anthologies, and been dramatized by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company and National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts. Her first novel, We Only Know So Much, was published in 2012 by Harper Perennial.


Betsy, as I know her, is tall, quick-witted, sometimes loud, and once presented me with a profoundly beautiful, somewhat passive-aggressively threatening gift: a funny phrase of hers I’d admired, written in gold marker on an antique hacksaw blade, ribboned in pink. Shortly after receiving this she met the man who would become her [unfairly gifted] husband, Ben, so you’re welcome. She is also the circumstantial genesis of one of my now-signature comedy bits, where, on meeting a pregnant woman, I offer my hand and say, in a conspiratorial tone, I had nothing to do with it. If her career tanked tomorrow, there’d be that, so let’s all join in welcoming her and asking me to leave.


Q: Congratulations on publishing We Only Know So Much, your first full-length novel. Previously you have published collections of short stories. I’ve written short stories myself, but not a novel. You think you’re better than me?

A: Thank you, and no, or at least not because I’ve written a novel. I kid I kid.




Q: Much of your writing has an easy, conversational, hip style that readers can readily relate to. What were your SAT scores?

A: I don’t remember exactly, all I remember is that they were fairly average, and that that when I took them a second time I went up in Verbal and down in Math.  I figure the real life interpretation of this is that in the following decades I have continued to go up in Verbal while I can no longer perform any tasks relating to Math.




Q: Your mother was an opera singer; your husband is an artist; you’re a writer. What’s your favorite item at Trader Joe’s?

A: Freaking meringues.  I am, at this point, fully addicted to them.  It’s almost nothing more than sugar in a pretty, puffy presentation.




Q: The US covers for your collection You Must Be This Happy to Enter feature a striking gnome-like figure. Is this a veiled critique of North Korea?

A: If it is, it’s veiled even to me.


[Note: at this point in the interview the polygraph to which the author is unknowingly connected (through a series of sensors hidden in the June 1984 copy of Modern Surveillance magazine which has previously been secreted into a small vault dug into the hotel room floor, over which the author’s chair has been placed) begins to emit a series of reactive trace patterns which are later examined by experts from the “MAURY” show. It is determined that these patterns are likely the result of acoustical pressure waves resulting from the loud knocking on the meeting-room door of the hotel day manager demanding to know why a vault has been dug into the hotel-room floor, and who authorized such a thing. To the best and most complete knowledge of the interviewer, HarperCollins Publishers, and the staff of the Riker’s Island Marriott Hotel & Suites, Ms Crane’s response to the question in question is unquestionable.]


Q: Who’s been the biggest influence on your development as a writer? Hint: Is it me?

A: I’m not sure about the biggest, that would probably be my dad, who was a big cheerleader.  But to say something utterly un-ironic or funny, you were one of the first people to tell me — or who I heard, let’s put it that way — that I was smart.  And that helped a lot.



Q: Is it true that you used a quote of mine in a short story which The New Yorker rejected? How many times did you resubmit it? Did you try anywhere else? Do you often give up that easily?

A: Ah, I believe you must mean “Out is better”?  Well, I didn’t resubmit it there because the rejection letter told me not to come back until I was no longer Havas-derivative.  As per usual, I’m not even sure what story that was in, but most likely it was published elsewhere.



Q: Who are some authors you admire? Are they dog or cat people? They’re not fish people, are they?

A: The list of writers I admire is a long one, David Foster Wallace, Lydia Davis, Rick Moody, and George Saunders among them.  Wallace had dogs, I don’t know about the rest — well, Saunders has a dog, but I don’t know if any of these people have fish. It’s true, that could be a game-changer.



Q: Your story “The Daves” from your debut collection When the Messenger is Hot has always struck me as depicting, in its way, the end of the world. Where did I develop such acute critical faculties?

A: You’re just more tuned in than the rest of the world to the fact that the world is ending.


[Note: at this point in the interview a wall calendar depicting the Mayan Temple of the Masonry Altars at Altun Ha appeared to fall from its point of attachment and slip behind a writing-desk. After the close of the interview an attempt was made to retrieve the wall calendar, but no trace of it was found. A similar mysterious event involving a large bath towel has been reported.]



Q: Which is more important: spelling or punctuation?

A: Well if you were my student asking that question I would say don’t turn anything in to me if both are not perfect. Otherwise I’d have to write a book. Screw-ups on both can cause inordinate problems for a teacher — I mean reader.



Q: Better kisser: Bill Maher or Charlie Sheen?

A: I’d sooner French kiss my dog than either of those.


[Note: Ms Crane’s dog, a French poodle, is named “Charlie Sheen.”]



Q: Do you write when the spirit strikes, or are you one of those people that go to “the office” regularly and pretends to have a real job?

A: I have a real job, but it’s not in an office so my hours are flexible.  Anyway it’s a little of both, but I do make an effort to write most mornings.



Q: You were an extensive journal-keeper before blogging became a thing. What’s your internet connection speed?

A: I have no idea.


[Note: repeated calls to Manny’s Ninth Avenue HVAC & Internet were not returned.]



Q: After your husband recently received his MFA, your family moved to New York City. Is “Max Fish” still there?

A: Don’t you have Google?



Q: What about “Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse?”

A: Sammy’s is still there and I think it’s open.



Q: Do you have a favorite among your own works? Are you right?

A: I have a few favorites, but I don’t want to make the rest of them feel bad.



Q: Finally, what advice would you give a young person just starting on a path as a writer: should they use the public wifi at Starbucks or at the library?

A: The library!


[Note: at this point in the interview the interview ends.]





To learn more about Elizabeth Crane, you can visit her website, http://www.elizabethcrane.com/

Thank you, Greg and Ms. Crane for a most enlightening interview!



Fiction Review – The Dalai Lama’s Cat

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie

Review by Cynthia F. (frazerc)



In this book you will find a cat’s eye view of Buddhism; call it an illumination of Buddhism perhaps.  After all, what is a feline who walks at the heels [and occasionally bites at the ankles] of one of the great spiritual leaders to do but study the path toward Enlightenment?


The narrator cat immediately experiences the foundation of Buddhist thought; `compassion for all living things’; in action when the Dalai Lama rescues her – half-drowned, starving and near dead – from the gutters of New Delhi.  It’s the first step the feline [and the reader] take down the path towards the illumination of Buddhist thought.


Much of the book consists of the cat’s observations: of His Holiness, of his followers, of students and of the personages that come and go through the temple doors.  These observations of the `enlightened’ and the `not so enlightened’ are then refined to illuminate her feline world view.  Sounds heavy, doesn’t it?  It’s not.  You spend a lot of time figuring out who the various famous visitors are.  You are moved by some of the situations  and laugh with Snow Lion’s observations.  The `nuggets’ of Buddhism shared are not `preachy’ – you don’t have to be Buddhist or even religious to find them both interesting and useful in every day life.


If you’re looking for a warm, fuzzy, `kitty’ story; you won’t find that here. If you’re looking for the revelations of Great Truth, you won’t find that here either.  What you will find is a good, thought-provoking read.  One you’ll probably recommend to friends or give as a gift.




Books for Schools 2012 – William E. Russell School

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

On Friday, December 21, 2012 one of our wonderful Tour Guide Leaders, Robin K. (jubead), volunteered to personally hand out some of the 1,000 books that were donated by our generous members to the William E. Russell School through the  Books for Schools 2012 program.


Robin was greeted by Principal Blake, who was very grateful to our PBS members, for the donations that made this possible.










Robin read a book to a second grade class. The book she chose to read was Dora’s Eggs by Julie Sykes. Just one of the wonderful, brand new books that were delivered to the school just in time for Christmas.






Thank you Robin, and all of our PBS members for donating to William B. Russell School and for putting books in the hands of our children!



If you know of an elementary school in need, suggest it here so we can consider it for Books for Schools 2013.