That's right.

The Blue Iris Journal will be reborn as a blog.

Since we seem lacking in a book review editor these days (Susan has other fires to attend to), there will be fewer reviews. Logical. I still have two reviews that have not been put up but after them that'll be it. Maybe.

I will have to change the line in the header about "reviewing fine books" -- maybe just "throwing the book" or "levying fines" -- hmm, have to think about this.

-- Phil

March 23, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thoughts on Schiavo Case

Another open thread:

Just a thought, but wouldn't it be neat if Republicans in Washington cared about the rest of us Americans as much as they do fetuses, the rich and Terri Schiavo? They could start with blacks, gays, women, Latinos, people with disabilities, the elderly - I'm not picky, just pick one. But why do you have to be unborn, brain dead or filthy rich for a Republican to want to lift a finger to help you?

-- Phil

March 23, 2005 in Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Deadly Illusions

Author: Chester D. Campbell
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

Durban House

DeadlyThis soon to be released third book in the series finds Greg and Jill making things official by having opened their own private detective agency, McKenzie Investigations. While their office in a strip shopping center on the east side of Nashville, Tennessee is modest, it suits their purposes fine. It is there where they meet a walk-in client by the name of Molly Saint.

Molly has a problem with her husband, Damon Saint. She does not really know the man, even after several years of marriage. He never told her much about his past beyond the fact that he was a Vietnam vet and that he claimed to have done some sort of covert operations on behalf of the Government. Then there is the shadowy group he says he belongs to that consists of a number of former vets who occasionally need his help. While there were a lot of things she didn't know about him, or why he forbade her to go into the basement of their home for any reason, what has her concerned now is that his behavior has changed in recent weeks. While nothing has actually happened, she feels threatened by him. Greg does not really feel anything is going on but since Jill is concerned, they take the case.

Molly soon vanishes and as the McKenzies dig into Damon Saint's background while they look for her, it begins to look like she was right and her disappearance might have been foul play. At the same time, they are working a case of financial fraud at a local restaurant and Greg might have figured out who fired the fatal shot that took down the Federal Reserve Chairman at a local hotel. In short, the McKenzies have their hands full before Damon begins to get seriously annoyed with their snooping.

Picking up a short period after the very enjoyable Designed To Kill, this book continues the author's track record of strong writing, realistic characters and complex mysteries that makes this series so good. Greg and Jill are a very realistic pairing, especially to those readers that have been married quite a few years. The mysteries are always complex and twisting, and this one is no exception.

While this novel could be read as a stand alone, due to the frequent allusions and explanations of the earlier books in the series, it would be best to read them in order. Therefore, start with Secret Of The Scroll which introduces the McKenzies and others and then follow it with Designed to Kill, which will lead you right up to this novel. Regardless of what you do, enjoy these, as this is one author a reader can count on.


February 8, 2005 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Carnosaur Crimes

Author: Christine Gentry
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

CarnosaurIntroduced in Mesozoic Murder, Ansel Phoenix returns and finds herself once again in the middle of a law enforcement investigation. This time, a badly burned body has been found hanging from her multi-foot high Allosaurus statue outside the local museum on Bureau of Land Management land. Apparently, a thief was trying to cut out dinosaur tracks from the stone and the machine exploded. The resulting fireball not only killed the thief but also threw him high into the air and into the gaping jaws of her statue.

In the aftermath, not only is she unable to repair the damage, but also the museum is closed indefinitely while various law enforcement agencies fight turf battles over who will handle the case. That is, until a small task force arrives, led by Special Agent Outerbridge of the FBI who claims immediate and total jurisdiction over everything. This case fits a pattern of dinosaur bone thefts across several Western states that seems to be feeding the growing market for dinosaur bones by rich collectors who don't care about the legality of ownership. With the BLM threatening to move the tracks permanently to protect them, as well as hurting the economic livelihood of the town by doing so and closing the museum, Ansel agrees to use her Indian heritage and her dinosaur expertise to assist the FBI and their planned sting of the poachers.

Combining some science concerning dinosaurs and their history as well as her obvious love for the Montana countryside, the author has created a very enjoyable and worthy sequel. Ansel Phoenix is a strong, talented woman, yet utterly realistically drawn as she ponders the choices she must make, romantic and otherwise, as the novel moves forward. At the same time, this work features an intriguing cast of supporting characters, some familiar and many new that are all realistically drawn and never once play on stereotypes.

The complexity of the characters is in direct balance to the complexity of the story. Once it seems clear that things are going a certain way, the author deftly performs a slight of hand and shifts the focus of the work elsewhere. Appearances are deceiving and just like in real life, Ansel begins to wonder whom she can really trust. The resulting violent showdown in the badlands of Montana creates quite a thrill ride for the reader and caps off a very good book.


February 8, 2005 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Three Days In New York City

Author: Robin Slick
Genre: Erotic Romance
Reviewed by: Susan DiPlacido

Cover ArtForty-year-old Elizabeth is a frustrated artist turned corporate lawyer. She’s in a dead marriage, and her children are ready to fly off to college. So she boards a train, leaving behind her sports obsessed husband for a three-day tryst in New York City with a colleague from the London offices of her firm.

Elizabeth and Richard, her self-assured and highly polished lover for the weekend, have been planning this affair for years, ever since they worked a case together and struck up a friendly-cum-naughty e-mail relationship. But this will be the first time they meet in person. On the train, Elizabeth’s anticipation is balanced by her nervousness, both of which get turned up notches higher when Richard calls her on the way and tempts her even more.

Elizabeth has been playing the part of the sex-vixen online with Richard, and she’s terrified he’s going to discover that she’s really a tame, married woman. But these aren’t Elizabeth’s only doubts and insecurities. And as her weekend with Richard unfolds, not only in a hot and sexy fashion, but also in a shower of comedic mishaps, Elizabeth is forced to confront her true inner desires regarding the direction of her life.

This was a steamy read, for sure. But it was also touching and humorous. Elizabeth is a charming lead – a strong and vibrant woman who’s finally starting to look for a life for herself after a lifetime of caring for her family. And she’ll pull you along and show the reader the city, and herself, in this tantalizing first novel by Robin Slick.


January 31, 2005 in Romance | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Acts Of Judas

Author: Georgiann Baldino
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

WhooDoo Mysteries

Cover artFor archeologist Linda Rhodes, it seems that everyone and everything is conspiring against her and the expedition she leads in the Jordanian desert. The attacks of September 11, 2001 have yet to happen but the old blood feuds, religious hatreds and distrust that fuel everything in the Middle East continue unabated. Her expedition has been attacked by the weather, a camel spider, food poisoning, deliberate stupidity by some expedition members and a host of other problems. Still, she persevered in her search despite all obstacles, including the sudden arrival of the Jordanian Police and a minister, Dr. Fawzi, to investigate the latest problems that have occurred.

While the police take away a large group of her expedition for questioning, Dr. Fawzi and his bodyguard assistants are still present when the expedition finds the object they have been searching the desert for these past many weeks. Buried in a cave, a relic that seems to be a scroll written by Judas explaining his actions is found sealed in a jar. Beyond determining that the ancient text, which will need extensive work to be translated, seems to be consistent for the time period, little more is determined before Dr Fawzi wields his considerable governmental authority and takes possession of the artifact.

His plans to move the artifact to Amman for study and safe keeping, away from outside influences, are quickly thwarted by the arrival of gun-toting terrorists. After removing the token resistance permanently, they take the artifact and vanish into the desert. In the resulting aftermath, as an investigation in this matter is conducted by the Jordanian government, Linda is captured by members of the same terrorist group. They need a translator and have decided she is to be their translator. If she refuses they will execute her. She knows once she finishes they will execute her. But in the meantime, she has a chance to work with the ancient scroll and attempt to translate a document that will fundamentally change mankind's understanding of the history of the Middle East.

On one level this is a thriller featuring chase and adventure across the Middle East, along with a hint of romance. On another level, this is a complex work that provides a deep insight into the religious differences in the region that shape behavior and politics still today. Using her extensive research into various religions via a number of sources, the author explains the religious and cultural history of a large portion of the Middle East while at the same time telling an engrossing story. This is not something that is an easy thing to do, but in this case, the teaching and the fiction blend almost seamlessly together. In so doing, the author has created a read that is a very good book and leaves the reader with plenty to think about after turning the last page.


January 31, 2005 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nobody Gets the Girl

Author: James Maxey
Genre: Science Fiction
Reviewed by: Tripp Reade

NobodygetsUp front, a caveat about this review: the author, James Maxey, and I are acquainted in the virtual sense, having critiqued one another's stories at an online workshop. His short story was a knockout, and it will be a fortunate day when we're all able to read it in some future collection. Cross your fingers that the day comes sooner rather than later.

Okay. Ethically purified, I can proceed. If, like me, you've come to associate hard science fiction with desiccated prose and corrugated characters, Maxey's book will confound that association. Yes, there is hard science here, at least by my reckoning -- vacuum bombs and time travel and terraforming, oh my -- but it's far from dry, parceled out as it is in small doses and leavened with humor. Here's an example of how he does it. Nominal bad guy Rex Monday is explaining the finer points of his "space machine" to our protagonist, Richard Rogers:

"My machine exploits the fractal math that underlies the fabric of space, allowing the spontaneous transposition of points along a curve. I built it out of a pocket calculator and a microwave oven." (204)

See? This is sufficient to tickle the intellect without making the eyes glaze over and the story bog down. In fact, the only thing dry about this book is Rogers' wit, which is liberally employed throughout these pages as he attempts to maintain his sanity. I could tell you why, but that would spoil one of the dozen or so delicious plot twists Maxey serves up. Let's just say Rogers has a serious case of sporadic reality and leave it at that for now.

God, the plot twists. Some involve identity, some involve romance, some involve life and death for certain characters -- no one is safe in this novel. These twists are whiplash tight and yet rock solid ; at no time will you think Maxey is cheating. Rather, you'll have an almost constant silly grin on your face as he pulls one fabulous trick after another out of his hat. The only problem with them is that they get in the way of writing this review: there are so many, and I refuse to give any of them away, which leaves me in an unfortunate position. I guess I could talk about the typeface, or the cover art, which is of the bona fide comic book variety.

Oh yeah, did I mention that this is subtitled "A Comic Book Novel"? Does that scare you? Do you have visions of inane dialogue and gratuitous violence? Again, relax. Like the best comic books, this takes genre conventions and makes them sing: the super-villain bent on world destruction, his semi-competent henchpersons (Sundancer, Pit Geek, Baby Gun, and the Panic), the super-genius good guy who is nevertheless emotionally stunted, the beautiful uber-babes (Rail Blade and the Thrill, who are more than the sum of their fetching curves), they're all here. One by one Maxey turns them inside out, even while serving up some way cool biff bang pow -- check out the big smackdown scene -- as he makes you believe in these new laws of physics he's conjuring.

The internal logic of this story is nothing short of remarkable. He's dealing with some concepts here that can be lethally Draconian to the careless writer: time travel, the theory of infinite worlds, the nature of ghosts and how they interact with the corporeal world. This is Maxey's amazing high-wire act, that he makes it look easy, that he takes these unforgiving ideas and juggles them with all the skill of a Cirque du Soleil performer. And when you see the use to which he puts Schrodinger's cat, you might, as I did, cackle with glee, startling whomever happens to be in the vicinity. Bravura stuff.

Woven through this epic struggle between Rex Monday and Dr. Know, the putative good guy super-brain, are strands that deal with the nature of reality and free will versus determinism, but always handled with a light touch. Maxey's skill at plotting and his bantering dialogue function as the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine of such weighty themes go down with nary a grimace. In fact, you'll probably ask for more.

In the end, I can only quibble with one aspect of this book. In his dedication, Maxey indicates he'd bet on the Hulk in a tussle with Norse strongman, the mighty Thor. James, if you're reading this, I disagree, having always put my money on goldilocks. Other than that, bring on the next book!


January 23, 2005 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Merry Mascot

Author: Bobby Jaye Allen
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

MerrymascotFor Detective Brady Kinkaid life has been pretty good lately. The small town life of Early, Michigan suits him well and he likes working in the Police Department. He has turned fifty and despite minor concerns about his age is handling himself well. Then there is the fact that he has found love in the form of his fellow Detective, Alice Drinker. While both are very happy, neither one is entirely sure of the other's actions, since both have been burned so badly before. The death of someone will once again have a lasting impact on both of them and those they know.

As students and staff at small Brewster State in the neighboring town of Brewster get ready to celebrate making the final sixteen of the current NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, their mascot is found dead. Professor Didi Terry, who doubled as the school's mascot, has been found hung in the school's bell tower. But, whoever set it up to appear as a suicide botched it badly. It was murder and Detective Brady begins to work the case. So too does Geraldine Pozy, ace reporter for the local paper, the "Early Eagle."

Before long, against a backdrop of small town politics and the basketball tournament, Geraldine and Brady begin to uncover clues from their opposite positions in the case that point towards a possible suspect. They aren't the only ones and soon a killer has to take matters in hand once again to cover up the original crime. But cover-ups and taking care of the messy little details can get easily complicated.

Everyone is back in this cozy style mystery, which follows On The Chopping Block. The romance between Alice and Brady continues, as does the one between Geraldine and Lincoln despite the occasional stumbles in each relationship. So too does the author's ability to keep readers guessing the identity of the mastermind which is hidden skillfully right to the end. Fans of this series won't be disappointed in this latest installment and new readers will enjoy this tale of murder in a small town against the backdrop of politics and sports.


January 23, 2005 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress

Author: Michelle Richmond
Genre: Mainstream
Reviewed by: Tripp Reade

01120501Again and again, characters in Michelle Richmond's collection, The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, grapple with the important role narrative plays in their lives.  Nineteen linked stories, all told from the first person, gradually reveal the history of a family in Alabama, and what emerges is a group of people, four daughters in particular--Darlene, Celia, Gracie, and Baby--who constantly seek to understand each other and the world by telling stories.  Sometimes they revise their stories based on new information, sometimes they stubbornly cling to an old version even when it seems no longer adequate, and sometimes they refuse to believe the stories told by others.

This is exactly the business of fiction.  Jerome Bruner, in his Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, speculated that stories provide "a map of possible roles and of possible worlds in which action, thought, and self-definition are permissible (or desirable)," (66) and further that "our sensitivity to narrative provides the major link between our own sense of self and our sense of others in the social world around us" (69).  Not only does this describe Richmond's characters, it also sets out what these characters, these stories, do for the reader: by their richness and believability they expand the reader's world.

In "Intermittent Waves of Unusual Size and Force," Darlene, estranged for years from her family by her mother's inability to accept the fact of Darlene's lesbianism, meets her father for lunch and he tells her what happened when, for one summer, he left all of them and drove to San Francisco.  It's the sort of story family members find almost impossible to tell one another, yet for Darlene his life now takes on a wondrous new quality.  "In his stories he lives the life of a slightly different man, someone freer and more brazen.  In his stories he becomes the father he thinks his daughters would have wanted, a father who makes mistakes not so different from our own" (106).  Here is a double pleasure: the reader's life becomes enlarged in the same way as the character's, even as the character comments on that growth.

Stories clash in "Down the Shore Everything's All Right," when Gracie and her boyfriend of four years, Ivan, go for a drive to Asbury Park.  Gracie plans to break up with him because of his penchant for telling stories, particularly his favorite, about the time he met Bruce Springsteen.  Immediately after she breaks up with him Ivan tells her a never-before-heard version of the story, one where he and Springsteen actually hang out for an evening, and Springsteen's sister takes their photograph.  "One last desperate fiction to win me back," (13) is how Gracie characterizes it, assuming the story is false and proceeding from that assumption to  conclude that such "dishonesty is a suitable reason to end a relationship" (15).  Ivan can't produce the photograph, though.  She berates him for telling such blatant lies: "What's wrong with the life you have?  Why do you have to make things up?" (15).  Ivan doesn't blame her for not believing him, but defends himself, saying, "At some point you just have to tell the story, no matter what people think" (15).  Nine months after she moves out of their apartment, a final box of her belongings arrive via UPS.  Among them, the photograph.  Though it's obvious from her meticulous description that the photograph is real, Gracie refuses to revise her story of Ivan as the perpetual teller of tall tales--a case of dramatic irony where the reader has better knowledge of the situation than does the character--and instead searches the photo for signs of tampering: "I marvel at the intricacy of the lie, the precision of the ruse, the bold lengths to which Ivan has gone to keep his story intact" (19).

Gracie's story of Ivan now turns into a lie she tells herself, not wanting to believe she's made another bad decision.  By the final story in the collection she will recant and begin her search for Ivan, who was correct in his assessment of narrative's value.

Most of Richmond's stories contain such moments, by turns heartbreaking and beautiful.  My favorite occurs in "The Last Bad Thing" when Gracie has an epiphany about her mother:

Even as I try to persuade her, I know that my mother will never leave this place.  I am beginning to understand why.  She is not in love with the city itself, but with the house where her children grew up.  The children that she knew and are gone now, somehow inhabit these beloved rooms.  In some way they are, and they are not elsewhere.  She is the only one in the world who truly knows these children. (54)

The light bulb clicks on for both Gracie and the reader, and two worlds are rendered more coherent as a result.

Frank Smith, another philosopher, makes a nice companion for Bruner where literature, and approaches to literature, are concerned.  In To Think, he wrote, "But the story we are probably most interested in, all our life, is the story of the world in which we find ourselves."  Ivan is the collection's most obvious proponent of this lovely axiom, but each story found here, and each character, helps Richmond do fiction's best work.  She gives us a constructed world that illuminates the stardust one in which we live.


January 12, 2005 in Mainstream | Permalink | Comments (5)

Still Life With Crows

Author: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kim Richards

Still Life With Crows CoverThe place is rural Kansas. A small town named Medicine Creek. Gruesome murders have begun and so have the rumors. Is it the work of Indian Ghost Warriors?  A curse laid long ago? Is this a serial murderer? Is it an outsider or someone who lives in Medicine Creek? Unusual tidbits bring out Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s most interesting hero, FBI Agent Pendergast.  You might remember him from these authors’ previous works like Cabinet of Curiosities.
This time he is paired with a local Goth girl as they investigate a rival town’s interest in seeing Medicine Creek fail to become the testing grounds for a nearby university’s genetically enhanced crops. Together they explore the many avenues of possibilities which take them through underground caverns and a closer look at the area’s legends. They discover the murderer’s identity but are surprised right along with the reader as to why the victims were killed in the ways they were.
This is an excellent book filled with intrigue, action and suspense. A great story to curl up with on a cold winter night.


January 12, 2005 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)