Jul 11, 2012

Book Review: Listening to Africa: Poems by Diana M. Raab

"The Nabinian sky
lingers clear and endless
over the lavender orange chain

of numbered sand dunes"

(from"Balloon Rides")

Title: Listening to Africa: Poems by Diana M. Raab
Published March 18, 2012; Antrim House

Poet Diana M. Raab travels to the heart of Africa with her family to experience the beauty and fascination of another world. During her safari, she observes the distress, the delight, and the dignity of the humans and animals who live there and parallels them with her own quest for health. (book description)

About the book: Diana M. Raab has written a book of 41 poems about her trip with her family to three countries in Africa - Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The poems are written in chronological order with her trip, from her packing and mental preparations for travel to the plane rides and her tours of each country.

My comments: Raab travels to Africa battling illness and cancer, and her awareness of her physical health makes her more sensitive to what she sees in the undeveloped areas of Africa. She cringes at the poverty, the disease, and the germs she imagines is in everything and everywhere, and at times is homesick for the relative safety of the doctors and medicines in America.
While traveling this continent
my safari pants' pockets
brim with Western remedies

to fend off threatened diseases
as germs and parasites conspire against me
within the waters and dense canopies.
(from "Disease Dance")
It is not until almost the end of her visit to the first country in her itinerary, Namibia, that she begins to lose herself in her surroundings and the beauty of the natural world around her and to forget her illness now and again. She is able to appreciate the other two countries much more - the wildlife and the countryside and begins to write about "Hippos," "Baobab Trees and Hyenas," "Mischievous Monkeys," the camp, a visit to the market, Victoria Falls, giraffes.

But she is always aware of the poverty around her. As she leaves Africa, she gives their bundles of safari clothing to her guide, who says, "You have made me a spiritual millionaire!" She leaves Africa with strong memories "guaranteed to make you weep,even/if you live your time there in unforgettable fear."

I liked those poems best in which she loses herself in her environment and into the other world of Africa.
I hear unrecognizable sounds
of animals singing
elusive evening melodies.
(from "Creatures")
I did also appreciate her viewpoints and astute observations of the difference between life in the West and places she visited. I hesitate to give a rating to this book as reading poetry, I find, is such a subjective experience. This however, is a very interesting record of a woman's journey outside of herself,  seeing herself in a different country and world, and recording it in poetry.

Diana Raab is a memoirist, essayist and poet as well as a registered nurse. She has a B.S. in Health Administration and Journalism, and an RN degree in addition to an MFA in Nonfiction Writing. Diana teaches creative journaling and memoir in workshops around the country.

Raab is the author of two memoirs, Regina's Closet: Finding My Grandmother's Secret Journal, winner of the 2008 National Indie Excellence Award for Memoir and Healing With Words, the 2011 Mom's Choice Award Winner for Adult Nonfiction. She is author of four poetry collections.

Author Web Site: http://dianaraab.com/
Blog: http://dianaraab.com/blog/
Listening to Africa's Facebook:http://www.facebook.com/ListeningToAfrica
Visit Tribute Book Blog Tour schedule for a list of other reviews of Listening to Africa. I received a
complimentary review copy through the blog tour.

Jul 10, 2012

Author Interview: Paul Levine, the Solomon and Lord legal thrillers

Paul Levine is author of the “Solomon and Lord” legal thrillers--
Solomon vs. LordThe Deep Blue AlibiKill All the LawyersHabeas Porpoise (formerly titled Trial & Error).

The books were nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, International Thriller, and James Thurber awards, and have been released as Kindle Exclusives.

Q: “Solomon vs. Lord” opens with the lyrics from an old Frank Sinatra song called “But I Loved You.” That’s a little odd for a legal thriller, isn’t it?

A:Would you like me to sing a verse?

Q:Only if you must.

A:“Opposites attract, the wise men claim, Still I wish that we had been a little more the same,It might have been a shorter war.”

 Q: So, is it a thriller with humor or a mystery with romance?
A: A legal thriller with humor. A dramedy.

Q: If you had to compare the story to earlier works...?

A: Shakespeare, of course.

Q: Of course.

A. Seriously.  The ‘opposites attract’ set-up goes all the way back to “The Taming of the Shrew.”  Then there’s Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man.”  “The Bickersons” on radio.  “Moonlighting” on television. Two people love-hate each other.  Life sizzles when they’re together, fizzles when they’re apart.

Q: Let’s look at the book’s teaser: 

          “Victoria Lord follows all the rules...
Steve Solomon makes up his own...

Does that leave anything out?

A: All the kinky sex.

Q:  We’re not sure if you’re being serious.

A:  Totally.  My working title was “Fifty Shades of Plaid.”

Q: One reviewer described the book as “Carl Hiaasen meets John Grisham in the court of last retort.”  Fair assessment?

A: I probably bring humor to my work because, as a trial lawyer, I saw so much nuttiness in the courtroom.

Q: In “The Deep Blue Alibi,” there’s a chapter at a Florida nudist resort.  Is it fair to ask how you researched the scene?

A: Like Jackie Chan, I do my own stunts.

Q: What about the title?  Are you paying homage to John D. MacDonald’s “The Deep Blue Good-Bye?”

A: “Homage?” That’s French for cheese, isn’t it?

Q: Now you’re being facetious.

A: That’s what they pay me for.

Q: Let’s be serious.  You’ve won the John D. MacDonald Fiction award.  You’re not denying his influence on you.

A: After I moved to Florida, I read all of MacDonald’s Travis McGee books.  When I wrote my first Jake Lassiter novel (“To Speak for the Dead”), one of my first fan letters was from John D. MacDonald’s son. I think JDM nailed Florida’s weirdness and corruption.

Q: Does that explain the title of your third Solomon & Lord novel, “Kill All the Lawyers?”   A combination of Shakespeare and MacDonald.

A: As lawyers constantly point out, that line was spoken by a villain in “Henry VI.” The guy wanted to overthrow the government, and killing all the lawyers seemed like a good place to start.

Q: While we’re on the topic of titles–

A: Which you seem to be obsessed with.

Q: What about “Habeas Porpoise?”

A.  I didn’t steal that one from Shakespeare.

Q: Or anyone else.  That would seem to be original.

A: Here’s the story.  When Bantam published the book, my editors rejected the title as too funny.  Now, the story opens with two highly trained dolphins being kidnapped by some hapless animal rights people, so I thought “funny” was okay.  But we settled on “Trial & Error” for the book. When I got the rights back for e-book publication, I restored the original name.

Q:  Tell us about your background.  Your education.

A: At Penn State, I majored in journalism.  At the University of Miami Law School, I majored in the swimming pool.

Q: You’ve been a successful television writer. What advice would you give to people who want to break into Hollywood?

A: Marry a blood relative of Jerry Bruckheimer or J.J. Abrams.

Q: Lacking that, when aspiring authors or screenwriters sit down at the computer, what should they be writing?

A: Ransom notes, maybe? Look, it’s really hard to break into the business. Some people suggest writing a spec script. But that’s a tough route.  Years ago, Elmore Leonard said, “Writing a script and sending it to Hollywood is like drawing a picture of a car and sending it to Detroit.” So I’d recommend entry level positions as assistants or script readers.  In the TV business, assistants sometimes manage to sell a script to the show they’re working on.

Q: Any last words about “Solomon vs. Lord?”

A: I wasn’t kidding about the kinky sex.

More information on Paul Levine’s website: http://www.paul-levine.com
Thanks to Wiley Sachek of Authors on the Web for this interview.

Jul 8, 2012

Sunday Salon: Mystery Novels and a Few Other Books

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday

I've been in the mood for good thrillers and mysteries lately.

'The Fear Artist
I've posted a review of The Fear Artist: A Poke Rafferty Mystery #5 and really enjoyed the book and the setting - Bangkok, a city where I lived four years in the early 1980s.

A great thriller set in exotic Bangkok that will draw you in, into the relationships between what will seem like real people, and into a political situation with what will seem a true life villain. 
A Fistful of Collars (A Chet and Bernie Mystery #5)
Spencer Quinn's ARC of A Fistful of Collars: A Chet and Bernie Mystery is a clever series which features the man and dog detective duo.

The Risk Agent (Risk Agent, #1)Another new thriller I'm reading is Ridley Pearson's The Risk Agent, a novel about business and government corruption, set in modern Shanghai.

On a different note, here are a few other books I have on my list for variety:

The Wedding Guests by Meredith Goldstein, described as

One wedding. Five nightmare guests. Five ways to ruin the happiest day of someone else's life:
- Cry uncontrollably over your ex in front of the bride and mix calming herbal remedies with copious amounts of alcohol so that it's hard to stand up - especially if you're a bridesmaid
- Dress like you are attending a funeral and look for opportunities to re-enact scenes from steamy novels
- Turn up late wearing a T-shirt covered in mud and something that looks like blood
- If you are the bride's uncle, who no one likes anyway, try to cop off with her friend who's way too young for you
- Wear a suit that stinks of chicken wings and then spend the whole reception propping up the bar. Who said going to a wedding solo couldn't be fun?

Skios: A Novel by Michael Frayn. "The master of farce turns to an exclusive island retreat for a comedy of mislaid identities, unruly passions, and demented, delicious disorder."

Laugh out loud comedy/farce set on a Greek island. Witty and clever. The plot reminds me of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors. If you like satire, you will love this spoof on academics, pretentious scientists, and those who idolize them.

Keeping cool during these hot days? I'll be indoors watching tennis today. How about you?

Jul 6, 2012

Book Review: THE FEAR ARTIST by Timothy Hallinan

Title: The Fear Artist (Poke Rafferty Mystery #5)
Author: Timothy Hallinan
Kindle; Hardcover to be released July 17, 2012; Soho Press
Genre: thriller

The main character: Poke Rafferty is a travel writer living in Thailand with his wife Rose and adopted daughter Miaow. He has gotten involved in solving murders and crimes before in the City of Angels which is Bangkok, and this is the fifth in the thriller series featuring Poke, in which crime and politics just seems to single him out for involvement.

The plot: Poke is minding his own business on the Bangkok streets, buying paint for their apartment while his wife and daughter are away visiting relatives in the northeast. Demonstrators against government policies in the volatile south of Thailand are suddenly dispersed by police and come rushing down the street when Poke is carrying two cans of paint out of a store. He is hit and sent sprawling on the sidewalk by one of the runners, a heavyset foreign man, who collapses in his arms, evidently having been shot at least three times by the police. The dying man, an American, whispers three words to Poke before he dies.

Poke goes into hiding for fear of his life and warns his wife and child to stay away from Bangkok indefinitely. The Thai police have already questioned him about the dead man, whom the CIA and other unknown people are curious about. Poke uses former spies from Russia and Eastern Europe and former Vietnam veterans, all living in Bangkok, to find out more about a red-haired man who is behind the attempt to link Poke with the dead man in a situation that Poke knows nothing about. The red-haired man is involved in resolving the Muslim insurgency and the "War on Terror" in the south of Thailand.

Help for Poke comes from his half-sister Ming Li, Poke's police friend Arthit, and his savvy neighbor Mrs. Pongsiri, to avoid the Thai police and the red-haired man while he figures out the significance of the three words the dying man whispered to him.

My comments: I read the book twice to get all the nuances of the plot, which was complicated to me as it involves Southeast Asia's past and its present. I read it first noting all the personal relationships that are important in the book - Poke with his wife and teenage daughter; his friend Arthit who carries around the memory of his deceased wife Noi; Arthit's growing relationship with Anna, the friend of his dead wife; Poke's daughter's friendship with a nerdy teen; the red-headed man's relationship with a drug addicted wife and a crazed teenage daughter, and so on.

I read the book again to get the political lowdown of Vietnam in the past and Southern Thailand in the present. The plot catches it all together neatly, while you travel every step of the way with Poke in hiding and Poke detecting, planning, surviving and deducing how to get out of his strange and unwanted situation.
".... But Jesus, Poke. You're supposed to be a travel writer, as far as I know. How does someone like you get this devious?" 
"I'm just writing," Poke says. "I got stuck in somebody else's story. All I'm trying to do is write my way out." ( ch. 26, from an uncorrected proof. The final copy may differ.)
A great thriller that will draw you in, into the relationships between what will seem like real people, and into a political situation with what will seem like true life villains. The characters are well drawn and realistic, the plot is superb, the thrill of the race is exciting, the setting in flooded Bangkok is exotic and a great place to be, from an armchair.

Thanks to the author for an ARC of The Fear Artist . My objective rating: 5/5.

Jul 4, 2012

New Cozy Mysteries in 2012

Thanks to the publisher, I have two cozy mysteries to give away beginning today! For many of you who are staying at home on July 4 because of the extreme heat, here's something to spice up your day - a book contest for cozies released yesterday, July 3.

Title: In a Witch's Wardrobe: A Witchcraft Mystery
Author: Juliet Blackwell
Lily Ivory owns a vintage clothing store - and practices magic on the side. But when she encounters a sinister sleeping spell, Lily comes face-to-face with a nightmarish evil... A young woman at an Art Deco ball falls under a mysterious sleeping sickness, a curse possibly placed on the woman's corsage. Lily is asked to help solve a string of poisonings in the Bay Area witchcraft community; evidence soon points to a new acquaintance dabbling in dark magic and deadly botany. (book description)

Title:How to Dine on Killer Wine by Penny Warner
Published by Signet, paperback

Presley Parker's event-planning business is the toast of San Francisco. But when she ventures into Napa Valley to oversee her first wine tasting, the lifeless body of the president of an environmental group is discovered under one of the tables at the party.Presley has to clear the winery owners of this crime before someone else gets corked. (book description)

GIVEAWAY CONTEST: Leave a comment with your email address and the name of the book you wish to win! There will be two winners, one for each book. U.S. residents only, please; no P.O. Box addresses. The contest will run through July 10; winners will be notified by email and will have 24 hours to respond. Good luck and Happy 4th!!

UPDATE: WINNERS OF THE GIVEAWAY: Congrats to Zibilee on winning In a Witch's Wardrobe and to Stacybuckeye on winning How to Dine on Killer Wine! Thanks everyone for entering the giveaway. Don't despair if you didn't win this time as there are more giveaways this summer!

Jul 3, 2012

Book Review: Andean Express by Juan de Recacoechea

Andean Express by Juan de Recacoechea
Paperback, published April 1, 2009
Genre: mystery set in Bolivia
Rating: 3.5/5

I read this library book in June 2009 and wrote the following comments on Goodreads. I thought I'd reprint it for selfish reasons. I hope to have every country on my Flag Counter visit my blog, at lease once. No one from Bolivia has visited my blog site, at least not recently. de Recacoechea is one of their best known novelists.

My comments on the book: I gave this mystery novel 3 1/2 and would probably have given it a four if I could have read it in the original Spanish! Some things are often lost in translation!

The train ride from the bowl of the city of La Paz, Bolivia up to its rim, across the stark and dry plateau, and then down to the coastline of Chile was the highlight of the book for me. Descriptions of the scenery, the sunsets, the people, and the few lonely homesteads on the plateau, were very interesting. I once flew over the Andes on the way from Brazil back to the U.S. and ofen wondered what it was like down below.

Also, relationships among mestizos, Indians, and Europeans in Bolivia are revealed on board the Andean Express. Granted this train ride was set some 40 years ago, I believe, and there is a hint in the novel about pending social change by a new political party.

The plot followed the general scheme of Murder on the Orient Express and other mystery train rides, but this "noir" novel is not a traditional mystery. Alderete has married a young woman from the upper social classes in Bolivia. It's an arranged marriage. Alderete is hated by close to a dozen people on the train, including his reluctant bride. A young high school graduate traveling to Chile to meet his parents witnesses the interactions and is used as an unwitting pawn in the developments.

Noir and mystery lovers, and armchair travelers, will enjoy Andean Express."

About the Author: Juan de Recacoechea was born in La Paz, Bolivia, and worked as a journalist in Europe for almost twenty years. After returning to his native country, he helped found Bolivia's first state-run television network and dedicated himself to fiction writing. His novel American Visa won Bolivia's National Book Prize; was adapted into an award-winning film. Adrian Althoff is a freelance journalist and translator based in La Paz, Bolivia and Washington, D.C.

In a Witch's Wardrobe by Juliet Blackwell: Book Teaser and Review

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB; choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

I flipped through the book of shadows until something caught my eye."It's as I thought: says here her soul's been displaced, which makes sense. Mirrors capture souls adrift." (ch. 3)

Title: In a Witch's Wardrobe: A Witchcraft Mystery by Juliet Blackwell
Paperback published by Signet; July 3, 2012
Genre: paranormal mystery
Source: publisher

Lily Ivory is living her dream of owning a vintage clothing store - and practicing magic on the side. But when she encounters a sinister sleeping spell, Lily comes face-to-face with a nightmarish evil... A young woman at an Art Deco ball falls under a mysterious sleeping sickness, a curse possibly placed on the woman's corsage.

Lily is also asked to investigate a string of poisonings in the Bay Area witchcraft community and soon suspects a new acquaintance of dabbling in dark magic and deadly botany. (book description)

My comments: Interesting idea for a cozy series but way too paranormal for my tastes. Too many witches, covens, goblins, gargoyles, pseudo-familiars with scales, snouts, and clawed feet. I couldn't suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the mystery plot. Probably a good mystery series for those who enjoy magic and witchcraft, however.

GIVEAWAY: Click here for a chance to win this book in a giveaway, now through July 10.

Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of such magnitude and celebrity, I found...