Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Mystery of Autumn

Wicked Autumn

I have a confession to make. True-blue lifelong desert dwellers who are happiest above 110 degrees, avert your eyes if necessary. Okay, ready? Here goes:

I am ready for summer to be over.

Don't get me wrong, it’s been fun--but this is the time of year when I start getting wistful about putting on a sweater. I sniff the air on cool days to see if there's any trace of that spicy, October-y something hidden in the breeze. If you're like me and are waiting not-so-patiently for Tucson's lovely, nuanced cool-weather self to make its first appearance, you too might be looking for a seasonal read to get you in the mood for fall. While I wait for summer to wind itself down over the next few weeks, I’m getting a head start by snuggling up with a cozy mystery, G.M. Malliet’s Wicked Autumn.

This witty novel opens with an introduction to new vicar Max Tudor. When we meet him, Max has settled nicely into his first position as the vicar of St. Edwold's in Nether Monkslip, a sleepy and genteel village full of picturesque lanes and (these days) New Age specialty shops. While some people might find that sort of burg boring, Max will gratefully take all the benign normality he can get. You see, Max is a former MI5 agent, and the vicar thing is his fresh start after a career of secrecy and tiptoeing through the shadows. He now takes pleasure in his engagement with village community life, composing each week's sermon and working with the Women's Institute to plan the annual Harvest Fayre. Until, that is, the head of the Institute turns up dead. Whether he likes it or not, intrigue lurks behind the peaceful fa├žade of Nether Monkslip, and even though Max has traded his badge in for a collar, he can't resist trying to find the killer.

The story that follows is a great mystery with a cast of likable, entertaining characters and a satisfying array of possibilities that will keep you guessing. Who killed the victim, and why? Will Max's investigation ruin the bucolic new life he's built for himself in Nether Monkslip? And how will this calamity affect the future of the Harvest Fayre? Wicked Autumn is a perfect weekend read, equally well-suited to chilly evenings ahead and the rainy days we're treated to at the end of monsoon season. Especially recommended for fans of M.C. Beaton, Agatha Christie, Lillian Braun Jackson, and the Inspector Lewis mysteries.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

On the Outside

Things are rough all over is the defining statement of S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders. A classic young adult novel, periodically challenged for violence, strong language, and family dysfunction, it is a short and fascinating read for both teens and adults. Required reading in my 5th grade English class, the story remains my all-time favorite book from school.

Ponyboy Curtis, his brothers, and their gang are known as Greasers - poor, rough, juvenile delinquents who commit crimes and wear too much hair gel. Their rivalry with the Socs (Socials, the gang of rich kids from the good side of town), simmers until one night when Ponyboy and his best friend Johnny are jumped at a neighborhood park. Johnny kills one of the attackers, forcing the two teens to leave town. Problems continue to multiply for Ponyboy, his family and his friends as violence escalates between the gangs.

This is a compelling story, easy to get sucked into, and worth reading. Or rereading. Despite being written over 40 years ago, The Outsiders continues to be popular.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

The John Lennon Letters

As a lifetime Beatles fan I was delighted to plunge into The John Lennon Letters. This hefty (400 page) volume  was collected, edited and annotated by Hunter Davies, who knows a thing or two about the Beatles (he penned their authorized biography, back in the day). Davies swept up reams of Lennon-abilia from family, friends, musicians, collectors and archives and organized it more or less chronologically, beginning with Lennon’s early school boy notes and ending with one of the last autographs he signed before he was gunned down in front of the Dakota apartment building in New York in December, 1980.

To characterize this collection as “letters,” though, is something of a misnomer. John Lennon appears never to have missed an opportunity to put pen to paper; he was a scribbler, a doodler, a poet, an author of liner notes, a writer of post cards and a maker of lists, and bits and pieces of everything made their way into this book. Davies provides facsimiles of the original documents and then offers a text version, mostly by way of translation -- Lennon’s handwriting was messy at best and frequently illegible. He was also given to writing in dialect (Scots, German, Shakespearean), and he made up words when it suited him. Davies makes sense of it all, and anchors his material with biographical data to provide context for the documents. 

Part chapbook and part indexed biography, this book is a revealing look at the personal life of a most enigmatic artist, and a great read for Beatles fans. 


Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Lock Artist

I admit that I got a little too involved with the main character of this book. He needed a mother to tell him that he was making very bad choices!  Needless to say, I enjoyed the book because of the character Michael.

The Miracle Boy, The Young Ghost, The Milford Mute, The Lock Artist or just Mike is the protagonist in Steve Hamilton's book, The Lock Artist. Michael is a very talented and unusual young man. He survived a horrific ordeal as a child which left him unable to speak.  He is a talented artist.  He is also a talented lock artist.  It is the lock artist part, his ability to open any door or safe, which leads him into all kinds of unusual and mostly illegal situations.  Even though he is mute, Michael tells his story to the reader. He is like any seventeen year old.  He just wants to be liked, he wants to belong, he believes in love at first sight, and he sometimes does the wrong thing for the right reason.

The book is written as a memoir from prison, so the reader knows that things did not turn out well for Michael.  What the reader will learn is that the outcome could have been so much worse.  I highly recommend this award winning suspense book.

~Gilby G

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Whistling Past the Graveyard

Normally, I'm a reader of memoirs and foodie books and travel writing. It's very rare that a historical fiction novel will grab my interest, but something about the cover of Whistling Past the Graveyard compelled me to pick it up anyhow. I finished the book two days after starting it, and I'm still thinking about (and missing!) its characters. The story takes place in Mississippi and Tennessee during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and centers on an unlikely pair: 9-year old Starla, a short-tempered, tender-hearted white girl, and a fragile but courageous African American woman named Eula.

When Starla's strict grandmother punishes her one time too many, Starla decides to make her way to Nashville to live with her estranged mother Lulu, a famous singer. Just barely out of her hometown, Starla meets Eula and accepts a ride from her. As she climbs into the car, she discovers that Eula isn't alone, as she had appeared to be: instead, Eula has a baby--a white one--in her front seat. Soon, a series of traumatic events forge an incredible bond between Eula and Starla; they demonstrate that, despite what others around them might believe, love and friendship cannot be limited or defined by skin color.

~Queen of Books

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Introducing Junior Bender

In these dog days of summer, here is a perfect mystery to read by the pool. Timothy Hallinan has written a light-hearted caper, featuring a funny, smart, heroic criminal. Crashed opens with Junior Bender, a Los Angeles burglar for hire, stealing a Paul Klee painting from a mobster. As he lifts the painting off the wall, he notices a hairline crack in the plaster and discovers a wall safe. Of course, he can't resist opening the safe to take a look inside, even though that wasn't part of the deal. The job starts to go sour when he notices that he's been caught on a security camera. After escaping with his life, a bag of diamonds and the painting, Junior finds himself being blackmailed.

Trey Annunziata, a ruthless crime boss, is trying to go legit, but she just needs to finish one more job, an adult film that will make her millions. Trey wants Junior to keep the star of the film, Thistle Downing, on track. Thistle was once the darling of American television, a child star that grew up in living rooms across the county. However, Thistle has gone off the rails and has spiraled out of control. Junior is supposed to be her minder, but ends up ... well, that would spoil it for you. You'll have to read it for yourself. Just know that Hallinan will take you on a wild ride, with zany characters and plenty of twists and turns. If you like Crashed, there are two more in the series, Little Elvises and The Fame Thief.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Remember your thank you notes

I'm going to endorse the concept of 365 Thank Yous by John Kralik more than the book itself.  It's a quick read and has the potential to change your life as well as those around you.  All you have to do is pull out a writing instrument (pens, remember those items?) and something to write on (as in a note card) and write a thank you note.  This does not need to be the long drawn out anguish of writing a thank you note to grandma after she sent you an awful sweater that was too small.  But just take a moment to write a three line note to thank someone for what they did.  Use a small note card so you won't feel like you have to write a novel and don't get intimidated.  Quickly pop it in the mail or hand deliver it if that's an option.  And yes, it might involve a stamp and the post office.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Pilot and the Spy

1943. German-occupied France. On the first page of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, a young British spy, captured by the Nazis and resisting with all her strength, suddenly submits. "I'm going to give you anything you ask, everything I can remember."

And she does, but she couches these details in the story of herself and her best friend, a pilot who died when their plane went down over France. Maddie and Julie were two young women from radically different backgrounds, with radically different lives and goals, who nevertheless became best friends in the heat of war. It is a friendship that will sustain the spy in her captivity, and ultimately lead her to the darkest choice she will ever have to make.

Friday, August 2, 2013


Narrated through free-form chapters using diary entries, social worker reports, arrest records, letters and even Supreme Court decisions, Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman reads like a cross between The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman and Dorothy Allison's Bastard out of Carolina. Rory Dawn Hendrix lives in the Calle de las Flores Trailer Park - a ruined development skirting the wrong side of Reno. Her mama has a problem with booze and bad men and, even though she's quit on men, Grandma can't kick Kino. Family history foretells a future littered with unwanted pregnancies and rotten teeth. But Rory, determined to escape her legacy, excels at school - using a battered copy of the Girl Scout Handbook as her moral compass and earning imaginary badges in her scout troop of one.

Girlchild is Hassman's debut novel and, though the story isn't pretty, the writing is beautiful. Scarred yet strong, the women of Rory's family instill in her an optimism and resiliency relayed through her youthful clarity on every page.