February 8, 2011

A Reviewer Comes to Suspense Your Disbelief

Filed under: Great Reads — jenny @ 4:58 pm

I was very pleased when author and reviewer Carl Brookins asked if his book reviews could be linked to from my blog.

As most of you know, I don’t do reviews myself (because reviewing is its own stellar talent and I simply don’t have it), but I love the idea of Suspense Your Disbelief readers getting to see some of the great ones I come across.

So without further ado, please check out this post by Carl, on KIND OF BLUE, a not-your-usual police procedural by Miles Corwin. If you’re interested in the real world of cops who are neither heroes nor foes, but sometimes a little of both, I hope you’ll keep reading.

Kind of Blue
By Miles Corwin
ISBN: 978-1-60809-007-5
From Oceanview Publishing
323 pages, November, 2010

A few years ago, this author wrote a couple of serious non-fiction books about the Los Angeles Police Department. He spent a lot of time with cops in that city and wrote books that became best-sellers, “The Killing Season” and “And Still We Rise.”

Now he’s back with a powerful persistent novel that draws from the same source material. “Kind of Blue,” is not your ordinary police procedural. It constantly reminds readers that the cops involved are no super beings, rising above the worst humanity can offer to save their city; nor are they all thugs, wife beaters and abusers. They are ordinary citizens, sometimes corrupt, sometimes honorable and brilliant, often prejudiced, but too often willing to make the supreme sacrifice for the citizens they serve. And, occasionally they violate the rights of criminals.

Author Corwin bends a keen and discerning eye on this stew of varying humanity to fashion a fascinating novel of human relations. Asher Levine, a dedicated, mostly honest cop, is one of LA’s best homicide detectives. But as the book opens, Levine is a former cop, having abruptly resigned after he was unable to protect a vital witness from being murdered. The death of Latisha Patton, never solved, devastates the detective and causes him to question his abilities, even though it is clear that apart from his dedication, he is a brilliant detective. So he resigns.

A year passes and a decorated officer has died, murdered in his home and the special homicide squad needs Levine’s help solving the case. More to the point, certain key executives in the LAPD hierarchy need the case solved or at least put to rest. Levine has had that year to discover his resignation hurts him more than it does the LAPD. With clearance from the top cops, Levine is fast tracked back to the force and handed the case.

The problem, of course, is that Levine won’t just concentrate on the current case and thus all sorts of actions that need to be buried along with the ghost of Latisha Patton. Traces of other earlier activity begin to resurface as Ash Levine winds his way through labyrinthine police and social structures of the street until he comes to the shocking final solution.

The title is apt, a riff on a 50 year old Miles Davis studio piece, the cover fits the mood and the attitude of the novel. All the elements fit and it was a pleasure to read this excellent book.

Posted by carl brookins at 2:15 PM

April 20, 2010

Hello Baseball Fans, Readers & Writers

Filed under: Great Reads,The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:22 pm

A good friend and mentor of mine, Charles Salzberg, sent along the following about two books of his. I invite any reader to check out this author’s work. His range is outstanding, and whether it’s an easy-to-read and even-easier-to-assimilate book on craft that delivers nearly two full years of study between its humble covers or either of the below, I practically guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

It’s deja vu all over again.

Eons ago, George Robinson and I wrote a touching, funny, nostalgic, wonderful, fascinating, life-changing (all George’s words, not mine) book called On a Clear Day They Could See Seventh Place, Baseball’s Worst Teams. It was published by Dell, got wonderful reviews, and fell into the wide crack otherwise known as the publishing promotion abyss, and disappeared from the face of the earth. Now, in their wisdom, Bison Books (the University of Nebraska Press) has decided to reissue the book with a brand new Foreword. The teams stay the same, all your favorites, the New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, as do the unlikely baseball players on those bad, bad teams, like Babe Ruth (about whom it was said when he pressed his wish to manage his beloved Yankees–“how could he manage the Yankees when he can’t even manage himself,”) and Ralph Kiner (who when he asked the owner of the Pirates for a raise, was refused with the unassailable wisdom, “we finished in last place with him, we can finish in last place without him.”)

The book is still pretty much on the down-low, seeing as Bison Books has the publicity budget somewhere south of the average family weekly food allowance, but the book is for sale at your local bookstore (if you have a local bookstore) or you can get it online here.

Also, if you haven’t picked up a copy of Swann’s Last Song (another “loser,” since it didn’t win that Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel, for which it was nominated,) it’s now available in paperback, with the original last chapter added,at Greenpointpress.org

And you might even want to pick up another one of their terrific titles, since all of them are on sale.

Both make wonderful gifts. I know that’s what I’m giving my mother for her birthday. And I might even autograph it for her.

January 14, 2010

Who needs mirrors, I have books

Filed under: Great Reads,Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:58 pm

Have you ever read a book and seen parts of yourself?

I mean, really. Who hasn’t?

But right now I’m reading one, and whether it’s because of my particular life stage–very memorable and identifiable: that of Parenting Young Children–or because of the talent of this author, or some combination of the two, I keep half-smiling, half-grimacing as I read.

I should rush in with the inevitable (and also true) caveat that I really don’t see much of myself in this quad of unhappy characters. I feel lucky to be passionately in love with my husband of fifteen years. And my children delight me way more than the ones two of these characters are raising do.

Still, the author gets some moments just. so. right.

Like when the mother, who’s also scrabbling to maintain a freelance career, is trying to finish up a piece while her children clamor for attention. Her voice takes on “a shrill edge of panic when three year old Noah pound[s] his small fists on the door.” How I have worked to keep sheer panic from streaking my own voice.  I’m not dangling off a cliff edge–quite–but there’s something about needing desperately to work– wanting to really, which in some way makes things worse–while at the same knowing that your kids need you. Something about being torn almost in two. We’re meant to live our lives in one piece.

When an author gets details like these so right you want to cry and grin and scream all the same time, and you happen to be a writer, you can’t help but compare your own work. Are there moments in mine that will make readers feel such a bolt of connection? In another piece I’m working on about the genre of psychological suspense, I refer to empathy as the essence of reading.

This author did better than make me empathize with her characters. She made me feel like they’d empathize with me.

November 8, 2009

I have no sympathy for you

Filed under: Great Reads,The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:05 am

This feels like a confession of sorts. I like unsympathetic characters.

A good friend of mine whose novel is about to go on sub received passes from agents who said her protagonist wasn’t sympathetic enough. I could never understand these. I’d read my friend’s ms, and I thought that her struggling, multi-layered protagonist was one of the strongest parts of her book.

A reviewer by the name of Gloria Feit, whose “recommended’s” and “highly recommended’s” I’ve come to trust, led me to a brand-new-to-me author recently. Jason Starr’s latest, PANIC ATTACK, features a protagonist characterized by frustrated ego and strivings at self-congratulatory greatness.

I hated him.

And I consequently read all the more voraciously. I wanted to see this man take a fall. Get his comeuppance.

Starr’s power as a writer enabled Adam Bloom to become much more as the book went on. Masterfully, Starr switched my loyalties, so that by the end, Bloom had become someone still flawed, yet redeemed enough that the book satisfied on a whole other level.

But the point of this post is to ask, what if the main character hadn’t changed thus? Is a protagonist whom the reader hates the kiss of death for a novel?

As learning writers, books of craft advise us to create a sympathetic character, someone the reader can identify with. But I’ve always been wary of one-size-fits-all advice, whether that’s dietary or writing. (Come on. Do we all really need to cut out every crumb of bread?)

For me–speaking as a reader now, not a writer–I love a book with a character I can love to hate. I will be all the more engaged while I wonder whether this person will be forced to face her limitations and come to terms with them.

Some of the greatest–or at least most readable–novels of all time rest on this principal. Scarlet O’Hara wasn’t exactly a noble belle of the old South. And certainly the anti-hero is a mainstay of literature.

So why are publishers or agents turning mss down because the characters aren’t likeable enough? Why the advice in those many books on craft?

What about you? Are you turned off by a novel with a dislikeable protagonist? If you’re a writer, do you gravitate towards or away from a character your reader just might love to hate?

October 20, 2009

The first great read in a while: NO TIME TO WAVE GOODBYE by Jacquelyn Mitchard

Filed under: Great Reads — jenny @ 7:47 pm

Those of you who read this site–really read it, with the proverbial fine tooth comb–have seen Jacquelyn Mitchard’s name already and know the pivotal role she played in my evolution as a writer.

But I’m writing about her today not because of anything having to do with me, but because Jacquelyn recently released a wonderful novel. She might be most famous for having penned the first Oprah book club selection, and indeed that’s the book I refer to in my earlier post. There have been many gripping reads after that–STILL SUMMER, for example.

But Jacquelyn’s newest novel may be her greatest feat yet because with it she revisits the people and topic of her first work, but manages to top its suspense, energy, and chilling content. If you’ve written a novel yourself you can probably relate to what a challenge this would be. All the drive it takes to write one novel and present it to the world as a whole and finished piece…

And then go back and mine for more material, and have it not be dry or reworked in the slightest, but even more gripping…I couldn’t get my head around that task. But I sure enjoyed watching how Jackie did it.

For those few readers on earth who don’t already know, THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN concerns a child abduction with a happy ending. Or is it? When I read Jacquelyn Mitchard’s first novel, I felt it ended as well as it could have. But her latest, NO TIME TO WAVE GOODBYE, will make you question that.

In NO TIME there is another kidnapping. And although the coincidence of this is acknowledged a few times in the book, it actually didn’t feel coincidental at all to me. It felt inevitable, and sorrowful, and deeply, deeply fated. Never once did I question the plot; I was merely swept along.

The final chapter is almost a story unto itself, although utterly necessary to the novel it completes. I thought it was a mini masterpiece. All is subtext and yet it’s so clear it sings. It did something very rare for me as a reader–made me cry.

I think you might, too. Please comment after you’ve read and let me know what you think about the whole happy ending thing.

I am beginning to think that a really good writer will make us realize that there is no such thing. I don’t mean that there are no happy endings. I mean that there are no endings at all.

August 26, 2009

Filed under: Great Reads — jenny @ 9:35 am

I’ve written a lot here about traditional summer pleasures–ice cream, vacations–(and I haven’t even gotten to The Best Beach Ever yet, or swim lessons), but today I want to focus on one thing that really makes summer fun for me.

A great book.

You could call them beach reads, I suppose, although I’m just as content to devour them in a shadowy nook as on the sand. I’ve discovered three I want to share.

You have seen James Siegel’s work if you watched a movie with Clive Owens and Jennifer Aniston a few years back called Derailed. I read Mr. Siegel’s paperback DETOUR a few weeks ago and was immediately hurled into a world of international adoption, guerilla warfare, and the love between a couple and their child. Something about the prose reminds me of early Stephen King, and I am always looking for books that live up to the King’s level. Mr. Siegel isn’t derivative at all, but he gets that blend of tiny detail that brings a character to life, combined with plot intensity, which in my experience few authors achieve.

I read Gillian Flynn’s first novel of literary suspense last year, and now I am reading DARK PLACES. I think it’s even better. It retains Ms. Flynn’s characteristic (can something be characteristic by a writer’s second book?) sense of brooding, smoky atmosphere but widens the scope to a family through the generations. This is an especial feat because most of that family is dead. And now I won’t say anything more–just read it!

Finally, I have to give a shout out to Lee Child. I am still catching up with Mr. Child’s series, which saves me buying hardcovers for a little while longer. This summer I read THE HARD WAY and BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE. I’ve said this in other places: I have no idea why I adore this hard, techno, macho series.

But I do. Every book rings absolutely true, and even though Mr. Child’s characters are in some ways as stripped down as the late, great Michael Crichton’s, they have more humanity. Despite the techno/macho stuff, I feel something when I read a Reacher thriller.

I think what I primarily feel is that now I could go out there and kick some serious butt. I mean, really. Jack Reacher can protect anyone against anything. I borrow some of that strength for the time I’m in Reacher’s world.

So what are your summertime pleasures? Any great books to share?

Or maybe we should all just get out there and read–summertime only lasts so long.

But who am I kidding? I read just as much in fall, winter, and spring too.

August 10, 2009

ICE TRAP by Kitty Sewell

Filed under: Great Reads — jenny @ 8:18 am

If my novel is (ever) bought, readers will see that I love books about snow and cold. There’s something inherently suspenseful about these elements. It’s lucky I never thought I had the market cornered in this respect, because Kitty Sewell’s brilliant thriller would’ve had me eating humble pie.

I discovered this book while on my voyage to Powell’s in Portland and reading it became a voyage in itself.

Amidst the struggles of their workaday life, a couple is trying unsuccessfully to have a baby, and this is taking its usual toll. As tensions mount, the husband receives a letter. It’s from a gawky teenager, claiming to be his daughter.

A lifetime ago Dayffd did a stint as a young doctor in the Canadian wilderness. The world he left behind hardly beckons anymore, although it contained longing, lust, and even love. It also contained a confused and toxic charge nurse, who worked side by side with Dayfdd, and just happens to be the mother of the teenager writing him now.

Dafydd knows he can’t be this child’s father–nor the father of her twin–and he travels back to a far snowy land to prove it. What he finds there is a mystery more twisted than anything he could’ve imagined. And disentangling himself from it may cost him even more than the child he will never have.

Kitty Sewell is a skillful writer whose prose brings to life a totally alien atmosphere. The redemption ICE TRAP holds out in the end is a plus–a thriller that ends thrillingly. And her characters are as real as you or I, but more than that they’re far from any stock or type you might recognize. Reading her novel is a trip to foreign climes in more ways than one, and I am eagerly waiting Kitty’s next.

July 7, 2009

Book launch

Filed under: Great Reads — jenny @ 10:16 pm

I went to Maryann McFadden’s reading at Clinton Bookshop tonight. Maryann is a writer of heartfelt women’s fiction with a wonderful story to tell…about how she got published. I will be writing more about her inspiring tale later on, so for now just check out her debut novel, The Richest Season, out in paperback, and her latest launch, So Happy Together.

July 3, 2009

Great Read: The Secret Sisters, by Joni Rodgers

Filed under: Great Reads — jenny @ 10:04 am

I just posted a review of The Secret Sisters, by Joni Rodgers on amazon.com.

I was thinking about posting the review here, but at this point amazon has a few more readers than I do, so I figure it will help Joni more if I post it there.

June 1, 2009

DIE FOR YOU, by Lisa Unger

Filed under: Great Reads — admin @ 9:58 pm

I’m extremely psyched for the latest from Lisa Unger, DIE FOR YOU, out tomorrow. I’ve read all three of Lisa’s previous thrillers and each is better than its predecessor. She is writing “family thrillers” (Oline Cogdill’s term) at their best!

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