SURVIVING MICHAEL by Joseph Birchall

An interesting, if not compelling, story of four young boys, who at the end of their school days, have a game of dares, at a cliff’s edge.  Michael was reluctant to jump into the waters, and so one of the others gave him a helpful push.  Michael did not survive the jump, and the three remaining are left to deal with this in their lives.

We readers get to follow their lives, told in alternating voices of the three, until 15 years later, when they have their annual get-together on the date of Michael’s death, although that death and Michael are never mentioned.

It is interesting to see the path of each of their lives, without our caring overmuch about any of them.

Nice twist at the end, although it was telegraphed rather heavy-handedly, so the astute reader could see it coming.

One reviewer called it ‘unput downable’.  Yeah, well, I put it down several times.  Wasn’t sure I really wanted to pick it back up again.

BOOKED TO DIE by John Dunning

This is a re-issue of the author’s first book, published in 1992,  a murder mystery, police procedural, and mighty fine, folks.  Mighty fine.  It won the Nero Award, and the Dilys Award.  I know, I don’t know what they are either, but then, it’s hard keeping up with all the various awards.

Our hero, Cliff Janeway (nifty name, no?),  is a homicide detective, has had trouble nailing the prosperous low life who is responsible for a number of murders in the city,  finally loses it, catches the guy, takes him out to some remote area and mano a mano, they fight it out, and he beats the kabooble out of the guy.  The guy is found, still alive, and claims that Cliff had handcuffed him and beat him with a weapon.  Cliff is under investigation, and decides to quit the force.

But you know what?  This book is all about book selling.  Yeah, how cool is that.  It is all about the acquiring of valuable used books, and you might be surprised to know, as was I,  that it isn’t just the really old books that are valuable.   A lot of current or recent best sellers are, also, if they are pristine first editions, and/or have been signed by the author, etc., and there is an ongoing competition probably in every city,  by bookmen who scour the thrift shops, and Goodwill, estate sales, yard sales, etc. looking for that overlooked big money book they can pick up for pennies.   And, if this book is to be believed, they can be killed for their valuable collections.

So our boy Cliff opens a used book store starting off with his own personal collection, and before he is even open, a young gal comes in looking for a job and talks him into hiring her.  She turns out to be a fast learner and a real asset.

Meanwhile, there is a damsel in distress, (distressed by that nasty a$$ whom Cliff beat up), and he is caught up in that issue, plus right before he quit the force, a raggedly ol bookman, who spent his days looking for the said overlooked treasure with which to make his fortune, is found dead in an alley.  Why would anybody kill him?  He had nothing, was nothing, and would seem to be harmless.  So although now no longer on the force, Cliff continues to investigate the old guy’s murder.

Really good mystery, good characters, and some more dead bodies.  What’s a decent murder mystery without a few murders, right?  There are five in this series, and he has a number of other books, as well.

 

HEAR YE, HEAR YE, STEP RIGHT UP

undrumLooks like I’ve done it again — got myself involved in three really really long books. So I was thinking, how about to while away the time until I actually finish one of these twenty-pounders, , it might be fun to learn what some of my blog readers are reading.

So if any of you would like to write a guest post, thereby propelling you instantly into fame and immortality, I would post it so we would all have something to read in the interim.

Here’s what I am looking for: a post about EITHER your favorite book (and why), or the book you hate the most (and why). Only one thing you can’t do: if you are an author, you cannot shill your own book. (Get a friend of yours to do that for you in the guise of a MY FAVORITE BOOK post). But other than that one rule, anything goes as long as it is coherent, I can understand it, and it doesn’t use too many foreign words. I have enough trouble with foreign words, being as I live in a country that uses ALL foreign words.

And of course, if you have a blog, or a website, you can include the addy for it.

You can submit them to Mzmarti@frog.cc. Try to remember to put Blog Submission or some such in the subject line so that I don’t think you are some wanker trying to sell me penile erection accessories.

And because detours are my middle name, did you know that “wile away the time” is equally correct, because it means to beguile, lure or entice, so a good case can be made for its acceptable use. It is usually considered as an ‘alternative’ in dictionaries.

I could while away the hours
Conferrin’ with the flowers
Consultin’ with the rain.

MUSIC OF SACRED LAKES by Laura K. Cowan

$RSVOO6RA sweet, gentle story of being lost, and finding what is lost.

Our protagonist, the younger son of a farmer in Michigan, near the shore of Lake Michigan, hates the farm, and isn’t all that crazy about his stern, father, who expects him to work hard on the farm and eventually take it over.  He leaves the farm and gets a job driving a trash truck.

One day, due to his carelessness, he drives the trash truck and another car off the road over a cliff.  His best friend in the truck with him is not badly injured, but he himself suffers a badly broken leg.  An eight year old girl in the car was drowned in the car when it went into the lake.

It is about the native Odawa people of the area, and about nature.  It has been called magic realism, and a ghost story.  Eh.  Maybe. Maybe not so much.  He hears a voice, the voice of the girl, telling him that it is all lake.  He must learn what that means.

It involves a visit to a Native American medicine man, or shaman, who tells him he must spend some time alone at the lake to find redemption.

It is a difficult story to tell, one of a rejection of his parent’s lifestyle, one of unforgiveness of himself for the death of the little girl, one of grieving.

For me, with such a deep subject matter, I felt it wrapped up too quickly and too easily. You know, everything will be all right for those who mean well and have a good heart.  Well, OK.  Sometimes.

 

THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN by Simon Winchester

ProfessorYou might at first glance think this is a thriller about academe, but aha!  you would be wrong.  It is about the Oxford English Dictionary and the personalities involved in it’s creation.

If you are a lover of words and their etymology, or just a lover of words after they are strung together to create literature, you will certainly enjoy this beautifully written account of the conception and process of creating the world’s largest, most complete dictionary — in any language, the OED.

It took more than seventy years to produce the twelve huge volumes that made up the first edition. It was completed at last in 1928, then there were five supplements issued.  Finally, a half a century later,  a second edition that integrated the first and all the subsequent supplementary volumes into one new twenty-volume set, was issued.

The OED defines over half a million words, and contains quotations showing exactly how a word has been employed over the centuries, and when it first slipped into use.

The story stars Dr. William Minor, an American medical doctor who served in the battlefields of the Civil War.  After a time, his behavior became erratic, and eventually, he was relieved of his post, and placed in an institution.   After some time, he was released, and decided to travel overseas to England to paint and write.  He, for some reason, went first to a seedy boarding house in a very bad part of London, where his delusions returned, and he was convinced that Irishmen were after him, and coming into his room at night.   After one horrifying night, he took his gun and dashed into the streets after a nonexistent devil, saw an innocent workman on his way to work and shot him dead.  He was sentenced to the Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane.

He was given two adjoining rooms, and because he had money, he furnished them in fine style, having one room filled with bookshelves that he then proceeded to stock with books.

Our British protagonist was Dr. James Augustus Henry Murray, who became in charge of the making of the dictionary.  The method for amassing the words was to solicit volunteer readers to read books, and collect quotations.   It was through this procedure that the working committee first came in contact with Dr. Minor, who wished to volunteer.  It was not known initially that he was a patient at Broadmoor, but it soon became apparent that Dr. Minor would become one of the most reliable and efficient contributors.  It was only later that it became known the state of his mental health and his residence.

The entire book encompasses the lifes of Minor, of Murray, a nice history of dictionary-making giving some reverent space to Dr. Samuel Johnson, creator of the first really useful dictionary in English.  The problem was that the good doctor only included words he deemed worthy, and the goal for the makes of the OED was to include EVERY word.

It was an amazing undertaking, had amazing personalities involved in it, and this is a beautiful and thoroughly readable telling of the tale.

This photo (from the OED archives) was taken on Murray's last day in his Scriptorium, 10 July 1915. Left to right, seated: Elsie M. R. Murray, James A. H. Murray, Rosfrith A. N. R. Murray; standing: A. J. Maling, F. J. Sweatman, F. A. Yockney.

This photo (from the OED archives) was taken on Murray’s last day in his Scriptorium, 10 July 1915. Left to right, seated: Elsie M. R. Murray, James A. H. Murray, Rosfrith A. N. R. Murray; standing: A. J. Maling, F. J. Sweatman, F. A. Yockney.

oxford_english_dictionary_01

 

THE JAILER’S SON by S. A. Ferkey

Jailer's sonLest you think that all I read are mysteries, and only Faye Kellerman mysteries at that,  here’s a Western.  Not my normal read, but a girl’s gotta branch out a bit, you know?

This is a whole lotta Western and leetle bit paranormal.  It is the story of a 15 year old boy, traveling around the western part of the country in the period after the Civil War.

Here’s the official blurb about the plot.  A little longer than your average elevator pitch, but pithy enough.  Pith is good.  I like pith:

Maxwell Beck is no average boy. Thanks to his Pa’s insistence, he’s a sharpshooter, sleight of hand artist, acrobat, and cardsharp. These are handy, yet highly unusual skills for the son of a traveling salesman. Even so, Max thinks he’s living a normal life, until one fateful day when he inadvertently sets a chain of monumental events in motion.

Just days after his Ma dies, Max accidentally shoots his Pa. It’s then that Max learns a secret about his past that will change his life forever and maybe even chase him to the ends of the earth.

Max’s Pa might be dying, but he’s insistent that they reach the Old West town of Deadwood before he leaves this earth. Max does as his pa asks only to find himself face to face with an uncle he never knew existed. Uncle Chase “Turtle” Beck, the sheriff of Deadwood, is not pleased to see his dying “no good” brother or his brother’s son. Turtle’s displeasure seems to linger even after Max’s Pa dies.

However, as Max rides out of Deadwood, his uncle intercepts him and offers him a job at his ranch. It isn’t clear what Turtle’s intentions are — Max saved him from being shot in the back by two outlaw brothers shortly after riding into Deadwood, or maybe it’s because he’s kin — but Max decides to give ranch life a try. His uncle has only one request: that Max keeps his special skills set to himself.

It’s an easy adjustment for Max. He enjoys the company of the other cowboys, and meets Patience, a sassy-mouthed blonde who he believes is destined to be his wife. It turns out this happy time in Max’s life is only the quiet before the storm.

When an outlaw gang savagely attacks Turtle and threatens to strip Max of all he holds dear, he is forced to break his promise to his uncle. As Max sets out to stop the evil that has the power to destroy all he loves, he tries to put the events his birth mother predicted for him out of his mind — even as they come true, one by one.

The ensuing battle of good against evil gives birth to a legend for the ages: the legend of The Jailer’s Son.

Ferkey likes history, and the historical West and it shows in this warm (yet kind of bloody) tale of a young boy, thrust on his own at age 15.  How many kids do you know who can do anything to survive other than give their thumbs a workout on their smartphones?   It is told in first person by the boy, a likeable, capable kid;  a kid we all wish was our own.  Well, excepting for the shooting of his dad part.  bwahahaha.  It’s one of those stories where you can’t stop reading.   So, OK, you purists among us.  Maybe it isn’t high literature.  But you know me.  I am all about the story.  And this is a great one.  Just the beginning of a series, and now there are three more to dig into:  Where There’s A Will There’s A Way, Exile, and No Patience,  all under The Jailer’s Son umbrella.