Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Book I Recommend - The Life We Bury by Allen Eakins


I received this book in December as part of our Mystery Readers holiday book exchange. It captured my interest from the very first page.

The story is about young Joe Talbot, a college student, who has a class assignment to interview a stranger and write a biography about a turning point in that person’s life. At a nursing home, Joe learns that there is one resident that might be a likely subject, Vietnam vet, Carl Iverson. But will Iverson consent to be interviewed? He is a convicted murderer who has been medically paroled because he has pancreatic cancer and only a few months to live.

As Joe is about to find out, his cell phone rings. It’s his mother who has been arrested for a DUI and is in jail. She’s screaming into the phone, demanding that Joe come bail her out. Joe must leave, and as he described his childhood, we learn that this woman is an drunk, bi-polar and sometimes violent. On top of that, Joes has a brother, two years younger, who is autistic and can’t be left alone for more than a short period of time. Joe’s focus in life is to get himself out of that situation, and he sees college as his only chance.

With his mother awaiting her court appearance, Joe takes his brother to stay with him in his apartment near the college. Lila, another college student, befriends his brother and becomes a friend of Joe’s. With her help and encouragement, Joe obtains the court records of the Iverson trial and learns about the gruesome murder.  

The next time Joe visits Iverson, he meets Iverson’s friend, another vet. Privately, the friend tells Joe that Iverson could never commit such a crime. When Joe asked why he thinks that, the man says, “Ask him about Vietnam.”

As this fast-paced story unfolds, Joe finds himself in a tug of war between the demands of his family and his need to find out the truth about Iverson. With secrets revealed, Joe goes a step too far.

The story, gritty and raw in places, exposes many issues: family relationships, abuse, autism, brotherly love, guilt, loyalty, death, the Vietnam War, and the criminal justice system, among others. As in real life, not every issue is resolved.

In the genre of mysteries, this one  stands out because the characters are compelling, the dialogue natural, and the conflict well thought out, all of which make it a page turner.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

How to Save Your Book from Fire

Do you have Words to Burn?

A few nights ago a bad dream woke me up. In it, I was escaping from a blazing apartment fire and trying to warn the neighboring apartment dwellers to run for their lives. It’s likely the dream was triggered by the late-night news program. In one of the segments, a woman was crying because she’d lost everything when her apartment caught fire in the night.

As I lay in bed thinking about that poor woman, I began consider what I’d do if my house caught fire in the middle of the night. An escape route was the first thing that came to mind. There’s window next to my computer desk; that would be my exit. The next thing was envisioning what I would grab as I was going out. I decided I would grab my jeans, for obvious reasons, my purse, it contains my insurance cards, and then my external hard drive. If I could quickly find my little flash drive, I’d take that too.


And here is the point of this blog. There’s a reason for my obsessiveness. I work hard to put together a book to publish. It takes months to complete a final copy. The external hard drive is the place where I backup my files from my desktop computer, my main work station. In addition, I often put copy of copy book files to the flash drive and transfer them to my laptop when I wish to work at some other location, like the library.

 A year ago I met a writer up in Oakhurst whose house had burned to the ground. I can’t remember her name. She told me that she and her husband had gone to the city to do some shopping, or something like that. When they came home that day, they found their house in ashes. BUT she had her current writing project saved on a flash drive which just happened to be in her purse that day. It was pure luck, she said. Her story stuck with me.

You’re probably thinking, “Oh, but I have my files on The Cloud. They’re safe there.” Yeah, right. The colossal hacking episode a week ago messed up a huge number of servers around the country, and that’s what a cloud is, a series of numerous servers. Several in the pipeline still aren’t working correctly. It will happen again, I believe, and the potential hazard of such criminal acts gives me goose bumps.

I don’t mean to sound like a Halloween story, but really, how are you protecting your hard work? What would you do if your house caught fire in the middle of the night? Have you backed up your files? Or do you have words to burn. It’s something to think about.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mystery Readers - The Expats by Chris Pavone

The Mystery Readers group I belong to decided we’d all read the same book this month, and the choice was The Expats, a spy novel. I confess I enjoyed it very much, though I had to pay close attention to detail.

The primary character in the story is woman named Kate, who is married and has two sons. The setting, in the beginning, is Paris, current day and time. A woman calls out her name. Kate then described the woman and the surroundings, and at end the chapter reveals that this woman is a threat to her because her family has been living with false identities.

Then the story flashes back in time two years when the family was living in the U.S. and her husband says he has a new job that will require a move to Luxemburg. At that point the reader learns that Kate has kept information about her past from her husband, the fact that she has been working for the CIA.

The next section details her resignation from “the agency,” the family’s move to Europe, the people they meet, and the fact that her husband is evasive when she asks about the nature of his new job and his frequent trips to other cities.

Because of Kate’s background, and his frequent absences, she becomes bored with the life of a housewife. She begins to be suspicious of their new friends, their seemingly ordinary activities, and even her husband. Tension increases when she starts to dig for clues about what was really going on and culminates in a reveal that is bizarre and unexpected.

It took a very gifted writer to manage a twisted tale that shifts back and forth through time without leaving the reader confused. It’s a book I can recommend.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Tulare Kings Writers' Upcoming Meetings.

Tulare Kings Writers will meet in the Blue Room of the Tulare County Public Library, 200 West Oak Avenue in Visalia, from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, August 20.

 Highlighting the meeting will be a presentation by Fresno-based author Cora J. Ramos, who will share her experience with small press publication. She a writer of short stories of mystery and suspense that have won awards and been included in the anthology Valley Fever: Where Murder is Contagious.

 Her first novel, Dance the Dream Awake, is a romantic suspense story with supernatural elements set in present day that dips into a past Mayan life lived in the Yucatan around 900 A.D. Her second novel, Haiku Dance, is a romance set in Heian, Japan of 980 A.D., when the pillow books (like Tales of Genji) were written by the first women authors. It was published in May.

Cora is a trained artist and loves to paint for her own pleasure and to help design her own book covers. She keeps journals of her dreams, poems, and inspirations for paintings and stories.

Bring your business cards, fliers, etc. for the networking part of the meeting.

 The following meeting, September 17, will feature a presentation by Marilyn Meredith on “Creating Memorable Characters.”
 
This meeting will be held at the Arts Consortium, 400 North Church Street in Visalia.
(Please note that the entrance is on School Avenue, and that this facility is different than Arts Visalia, the site of a few of our previous meetings.)
 
A representative of the Arts Consortium will be in attendance to talk about how writers’ can participate at Taste the Arts, which is scheduled for October 15. (Please visit www.artsconsortium.org/tastethearts for more information.)

We hope to see you on August 20. Happy writing!

 

Friday, May 20, 2016

E-book or Paper Book - The Great Debate

When Oprah Winfrey introduced the Kindle on her TV show, much to my surprise, my son ordered one for me. He knew I had shelves lined with bulky books and thought it would be a solution to my storage problem. As soon as I loaded my first book, I realized the advantage of its features, instant gratification being the first. The book was in my hands ready to read in a matter of seconds. Adjustable font size was the second thing I found delightful since I was beginning to struggle with the print in some paperback books. E-books cost less too.

I’ve always preferred reading in bed. I once observed I’d never need a sleeping pill. Just hand me a book and I’d soon be asleep, especially a textbook. I soon noticed the Kindle had another feature I liked. There was no need for me to fumble around to find a bookmark when I was ready to turn out the light; just flip the button and it would remember where I left off.

When I talked to some of my friends about the new technology, they groaned and said they still favored the feel of a real book in their hands. They argued that they often flipped the pages of their books back to refer to a page read earlier, something that was difficult with an e-reader. I had to confess they were right about that part. I also had to admit that I was unable to underline passages in an e-book.

So, have I switched totally to e-books? The answer is no. I still have shelves bulging with my favorites. I have some really old books I’d never give up. How could I toss an early edition of Gone With the Wind, or To Kill a Mockingbird? They are like old friends. Or that 1915 edition of Gray’s Anatomy that belonged to my mother. I even have a bookcase up in the attic where I store a few books I’ve promised myself I’ll read someday. There’s one about how Cortez conquered Mexico, and another about Livingston in darkest Africa.

I don’t believe that paper books will be abandoned soon. But e-books are here to stay also. I’ve read that at least 27% of Americans read on an electronic device, and the number is growing. I’ve also noticed that libraries still have a lot of people enjoying them. So let’s celebrate books, all kinds.

How about you, dear reader, what is your preference, e-book or paper?  


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A K-9 team Solves This Murder Mystery

Killing Trail - Margaret Mizushima

I received this book at the December meeting of Mystery Readers with the assignment to report on it during the February meeting. It’s the first book I’ve read that featured a police service dog, and I have to say I enjoyed learning about how the dog was handled, and how he did his job.

Killing Trail features Mattie Cob, a deputy sheriff in Timber Creek, Colorado. Having a K-9 unit is a first for Timber Creek, and so she and the German Sheppard, Robo, are the source of a good deal of speculation by the towns people and envy by a few of her colleagues. Fresh from a twelve week training course at the K-9 Academy, they are called out to where the body of a girl has been discovered along with her injured dog. What follows is a police procedural with a lot of interviewing people who knew the victim and others who might have something to hide. Throw in a handsome veterinarian, and you have a little romance too. I’d say it’s a better than average first book, and I expect other books in the series will be even better.