Briefly Noted: ‘Cold Cold Bones’ by Kathy Reichs

I enjoyed reading this novel about forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan in Reichs’ twenty-first novel in the series that inspired the TV show “Bones.” While I have probably seen most of the 246 episodes of the TV program, this is the first time I’ve read one of the books which are categorized as “suspense thrillers.”

I don’t think I can fairly review the book because I’m strongly influenced by the TV version of the character. However, this book kept my attention, the characters were real and fully drawn, and the suspense was constant.

From the Publisher

“Winter has come to North Carolina and, with it, a drop in crime. Freed from a heavy work schedule, Tempe Brennan is content to dote on her daughter Katy, finally returned to civilian life from the army. But when mother and daughter meet at Tempe’s place one night, they find a box on the back porch. Inside: a very fresh human eyeball.

“GPS coordinates etched into the eyeball lead to a Benedictine monastery where an equally macabre discovery awaits. Soon after, Tempe examines a mummified corpse in a state park, and her anxiety deepens.

“There seems to be no pattern to the subsequent killings uncovered, except that each mimics in some way a homicide that a younger Tempe had been called in to analyze. Who or what is targeting her, and why?

“Helping Tempe search for answers is detective Erskine “Skinny” Slidell, retired but still volunteering with the CMPD cold case unit—and still displaying his gallows humor. Also pulled into the mystery: Andrew Ryan, Tempe’s Montreal-based beau, now working as a private detective.

“Could this elaborately staged skein of mayhem be the prelude to a twist that is even more shocking? Tempe is at a loss to establish the motive for what is going on…and then her daughter disappears.

“At its core, Cold, Cold Bones is a novel of revenge—one in which revisiting the past may prove the only way to unravel the present.” 

Book Lover Reviews’ viewpoint is apt: “Cold Cold Bones could glibly be described as a mixed tape of Brennan’s best hits, akin to those photo boards or slideshows parents typically rollout at 21st birthday celebrations. This 21st novel certainly features several of Tempe’s most grisly past cases and pulls together many of her past colleagues and acquaintances, but does so in a way that I think enhances, and perhaps reinvigorates the anthropologist’s characterisation.”

Kirkus writes, in part, “Reichs supplies a great hook, a double helping of homicides past and present, and all the meticulous forensic details and throwaway cliffhanger chapter endings you’d expect from this celebrated series, though the motive behind the murders is significantly less interesting than the ghoulish crimes themselves.”

If you like books labeled as suspense thrillers and/or police procedurals, this novel might bring you just what you’re looking for at night after most of the lights are out and the world is quiet except for the kinds of perps this book brings to life.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic series that begins with “Conjure Woman’s Cat.” 

New: ‘The Mysterious Composition of Tears,’ a novel by Sharon Heath

Thomas-Jacob Publishing has released the latest addition to Sharon Heath’s The Fleur Trilogy, The Mysterious Composition of Tears (July 18). Currently available in Kindle and paperback, The novel book follows History of My Body, Tizita, and Return of the Butterfly.

From the Publisher:

After a series of climate calamities, physicist Fleur Robins takes off for deep space in a desperate attempt to save the species from extinction. During her mysteriously prolonged absence, the internet has crashed, fire and flood have devastated whole countries, and End of Times cults have proliferated. There have been some intriguingly hopeful changes, too—nanoparticle holograms have replaced electronic devices, young people are witnessing exquisitely colorful “Shimmers,” and the most gifted of them converse regularly with animals and trees.

While Fleur’s distraught husband Adam leads their Caltech physics team in frantic efforts to pinpoint her whereabouts, and Fleur herself plots her return home, their teenaged children Callay and Wolf fall in love with surprising partners. But when the charming son of an End of Times pastor crosses Wolf’s path during a particularly vibrant Shimmer, events are set in motion that will upend everyone’s life and transform planet Earth itself.

This latest installment of Sharon Heath’s saga of the quirky Nobelist Fleur is simultaneously a vision of what awaits us in a post-Covid world, a wild romp through quantum reality, and a deep sea dive into the dark and light vagaries of the human heart.

From the C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles

Come and join us at the Institute Clubhouse or via Zoom on September 10th at 10:30 a. m. for a book reading and signing by Jungian Analyst Sharon Heath of her sequel to The Fleur Trilogy. Admission is free, but registration is required

Heath is also the author of Chasing Eve.

Thoughts while re-reading Ruta Sepetys’ ‘I Must Betray You’

If your reading speed is faster than the amount of money in your wallet, then you’ll end up re-reading many of the books on your shelves. I often re-read books by John Hart (The Hush), Kristin Hannah (The Nightingale), Pat Conroy (The Prince of Tides), and Ruta Sepetys (Salt to the Sea). I think I’ve read all of these authors’ books multiple times because they are well-written and speak to issues larger than their plots.

As I re-read I Must Betray You, I find myself simultaneously captured by the story it tells and horrified at the life Romanians led under the regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu who led the country until the revolution of 1989. I remember this from news reports, though I had no idea how pervasive the expectation was that “good citizens” were all expected to inform on each other.

As a Libertarian (not a Republican using the term falsely), I think we already live under too much surveillance from highway license plate readers that track who goes where to NSA listening to conversations that are expected to be private. But, as I read I Must Betray You, I think maybe things here are either much better than my worst fears or are heading in the direction of my worst fears.

The New York Times reviewer said the novel is “A gut-wrenching, startling historical thriller about communist Romania and the citizen spy network that devastated a nation, from the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray.”

My thoughts are: (a) Why does a dictator “need” to deny so much freedom to his/her country’s citizens? and (b) How do so many people put up with their government’s atrocities for so long?

From The Publisher

Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.
 
Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves—or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.
 
Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?
 
Master storyteller Ruta Sepetys is back with a historical thriller that examines the little-known history of a nation defined by silence, pain, and the unwavering conviction of the human spirit.

Of course,  I know one thing Cristian Florescu doesn’t know. The dictator and his wife aren’t going to stay in power because a revolution is coming. But even if he knew, could he hold it together like a person in a storm who knows the storm will ultimately move out to sea? Yet, I appreciate his spunk, his beliefs, and the risks he’s willing to take. I think all of that goes beyond what most of us in the U.S. would be willing to do to get back to the kind of government the founders intended.

You may feel totally different things as you read this book. That’s fine. The point is, that in addition to providing us with a good story, Sepetys provides us with a lot to think about in the countries where we live.

Malcolm

W. P. Kinsella’s magical realism in ‘Shoeless Joe’ and ‘The Iowa Baseball Confederacy’

If you watched Ken Burns’ 1994 documentary “Baseball,” perhaps you felt the magic in the sport. PBS called the film, “An American epic overflowing with heroes and hopefuls, scoundrels and screwballs.” If you sense this magic at the ball field or even while watching a game on TV, perhaps you can understand why Canadian author W. P. Kinsella (1935-2016) used magical realism in Shoeless Joe, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, and his later novel Butterfly Winter.

If you watched the feature film based on Shoeless Joe, “Field of Dreams,” or the movie version of “The Natural,” you might ask how anyone could write sincerely about baseball without magical realism. Shoeless Joe Jackson (1887-1951) was (and is) considered one of baseball best players with the third highest batting average in the major leagues. Even now, many dispute the claim he was involved in the 1919 “Black Sox scandal” in which White Sox players (including Jackson) were blamed for trying to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Jackson–whose participation is doubted–was banned from baseball. In some ways, the book and film redeem him even though MLB never would.

The spirit of the magic is aptly summed up in the New York Times review of Shoeless Joe that includes the following excerpt that appeared after a character was discovered to have been lying about his baseball experience: “I imagine Eddie Scissons has decided, ‘If I can’t have what I want most in life, then I’ll pretend I had it in the past, and talk about it and live it and relive it until it is real and solid and I can hold it to my heart like a precious child. Once I’ve experienced it so completely, no one can ever take it away from me.'”

This is the way of sports. When actuality doesn’t meet our needs, dreams suffice.

Wikipedia says,” The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (1986) another book blending fantasy and magical realism, recounts an epic baseball game a minor league team played against the 1908 World Champion Chicago Cubs” and Butterfly Winter as “The story of Julio and Esteban Pimental, twins whose divine destiny for baseball begins with games of catch in the womb, the novel marks a return to form, combining his long-held passions of baseball and magical realism.”

Great reading if you’re a baseball fan or even if you aren’t. Eitherway, you’ll suspect that magic exists by the time you get done reading the books.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism novels and short stories from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.

Looking for traditional western fiction and nonfiction: check the yearly Spur awards

Western fiction and nonfiction, as I’m using them here, mean traditional books set in the American West, though “Spur Awards” is probably a good tip-off to that. The awards, which are announced in March by the Western Writers of America often include books that a more varied than the old shoot-em-up stereotype of earlier western novels.

You can find the winners on the organization’s website here, though a software glitch is keeping the lists of winners prior to 2022 from displaying.

According to the website, “Western Writers of America annually honors writers for distinguished writing about the American West with the Spur Awards. Since 1953 the Spur Awards have been considered one of the most prestigious awards in American literature. Spurs are given for the best western historical novel, best western traditional novel, best western contemporary novel, best short story, best short nonfiction. Also, best contemporary nonfiction, best biography, best history, best juvenile fiction and nonfiction, best drama, best documentary, and best first novel as well as best first nonfiction book.”

I’m especially interested in The Forgotten Botanist: Sara Plummer Lemmon’s Life of Science and Art by Wynne Brown which won a Spur for best biography this year. Books such as this are interesting for multiple reasons, one of them being they are great when an author is doing research. Even the titles of the winners and finalists can suggest new subjects for the curious author.

I’m also interested in Defending the Arctic Refuge: A Photographer, an Indigenous Nation, and a Fight for Environmental Justice by Finis Dunaway. The publisher’s description is more than enough to but this book on my TBR list: “Tucked away in the northeastern corner of Alaska is one of the most contested landscapes in all of North America: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Considered sacred by Indigenous peoples in Alaska and Canada and treasured by environmentalists, the refuge provides life-sustaining habitat for caribou, polar bears, migratory birds, and other species. For decades, though, the fossil fuel industry and powerful politicians have sought to turn this unique ecosystem into an oil field. Defending the Arctic Refuge tells the improbable story of how the people fought back. At the center of the story is the unlikely figure of Lenny Kohm (1939–2014), a former jazz drummer and aspiring photographer who passionately committed himself to Arctic Refuge activism.”

If you like traditional trapper, rancher, U.S. marshal, and other works, there’s a lot here to like, including Ridgeline, Dark Sky: A Joe Pickett Novel, and Cheyenne Summer: The Battle of Beecher Island: A History. 

Good stuff, if you know where to look.

Malcolm

New Title: ‘Savage West: The Life and Fiction of Thomas Savage’

“Thomas Savage (April 25, 1915 – July 25, 2003) was an American author of novels published between 1944 and 1988. He is best known for his Western novels, which drew on early experiences in the American West. – Wikipedia”

For the popularity and success of his unique western novels and the awards he received, Thomas Savage (The Power of the Dog and others) is more obscure than he should be. O. Alan Weltzien hopes to change that with his 257-page biography published by the University of Nevada Press in January.

The book is available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

From the Publisher

Thomas Savage (1915-2003) was one of the intermountain West’s best novelists. His thirteen novels received high critical praise, yet he remained largely unknown by readers. Although Savage spent much of his later life in the Northeast, his formative years were spent in southwestern Montana, where the mountain West and his ranching family formed the setting for much of his work.

O. Alan Weltzien’s insightful and detailed literary biography chronicles the life and work of this neglected but deeply talented novelist. Savage, a closeted gay family man, was both an outsider and an insider, navigating an intense conflict between his sexual identity and the claustrophobic social restraints of the rural West.

Unlike many other Western writers, Savage avoided the formula westerns –so popular in his time– and offered instead a realistic, often subversive version of the region. His novels tell a hard, harsh story about dysfunctional families, loneliness, and stifling provincialism in the small towns and ranches of the northern Rockies, and his minority interpretation of the West provides a unique vision and caustic counternarrative contrary to the triumphant settler-colonialism themes that have shaped most Western literature.

Savage West seeks to claim Thomas Savage’s well-deserved position in American literature and to reintroduce twenty-first-century readers to a major Montana writer.

From the Introduction

“In her Publishers Weekly interview with Savage (July 15, 1988), Francesca Coltrera called Savage ‘a balladeer, almost, of the American scene.’ If so, Savage’s ballads, like many of his best known, sing sad stories, but it’s more than that. Particularly in the eight novels set in southwestern Montana and Idaho’s Lemhi River Valley, Savage wields an acidic brush, one that goes against the gain of triumphal stories of white pioneers and their prospering or floundering descendants. Savage prefers anti-heroic, acerbic flavors. His stylistic wit and play, especially his essayistic interludes, expose grim realities and lonely spaces.”

Malcolm

My Facebook author’s page is not all about me

I promise it isn’t. It’s filled with links to book reviews, writing how-to, author interviews, obituaries, books being made into films, and other books and authors’ subjects. There are usually five or six links there per day, so it’s not overpowering. This blog usually has a link there as well

Today I included a link to the rather scandalous film “Deep Throat,” one of those anniversaries, looking back in time kinds of articles. So far, Facebook hasn’t told me the link doesn’t meet community standards. There’s also a review of Two Nights in Lisbon and an article about the disturbing biographies of children’s book authors.

At any rate, if you follow authors and books, I hope you’ll stop by and take a look. If you find something you really like once or twice a week, count yourself lucky!

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of a bunch of stuff. Click on his name to find out what.

Review: ‘Whereabouts’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

If you sharpen a knife for too long, you ultimately have nothing left. This novel treads closely to that eventuality. Lahiri has removed everything readers look for in a work of fiction, presenting us with a plotless, episodic story told in short chapters out of which most of the unnamed, middle-aged female protagonist’s soul has been honed away.

Nonetheless, each rather mundane moment, hanging as it does between engagement and lack of engagement with the world packs a punch that can be likened, perhaps, to a velvet hammer or the piercing shiv that remains of the original knife. The overall effect is reminiscent of a child standing that the ocean’s edge, eager to plunge into and experience the water and yet content to stand in the littoral zone between land and sea–or, in the character’s case–between stubborn loneliness and interaction with others.

Her father is dead and her relationship with her mother is strained. Yet she meets others, casual friends and/or acquaintances on the street, even lovers sometimes, without undue suffering. In fact, she tentatively seeks others out but stands back from total or long-term commitment.

There is hope here even though everything human seems transitory, like leaves that will soon be blown away by the wind. And yet, she waits and ages.

Four of Five Stars

–Malcolm

‘The Things We Write’ is now available in a paperback edition

You should assume I’m biased when I say this is a beautiful book. What an honor to be part of it. Now it’s out in paperback, supplementing the PDF and e-book editions.

From the Publisher

Seven Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC authors bring you 15 of their short stories, excerpts, and poems. Sometimes offbeat, always captivating, the selections include historical fiction, magical realism, crime, psychological suspense, literary fiction, coming of age, and poetry for both children and adults. The works are grouped by author name, not genre, ensuring a surprise each time you turn the page.

Poet Scott Zeidel contributed the cover art. You can also see his artwork on the cover of his collection of poems, Welcome, and in his wife Smoky Zeidel’s book Who’s Munching on my Milkweed.

Malcolm

Remembering ‘Pay Dirt!: San Francisco, The Romance of a Great City’

My late uncle Maury B. Campbell edited this lavish, spiral-bound love letter to San Francisco in 1949. As a child, I was a little scared of the old prospector on the cover but found myself drawn to the photographs inside. If you search for the book on Google, you’ll find it for sale (used) for $30 to $50.

Like Tony Bennet, I left my heart in this town and saw Pay Dirt as a book of dreams about the place where, one day, I would return. After all, the Campbell family could be found in multiple cities throughout the Bay Area where I was born.

The book comes to mind today because there was a thread about it in Facebook’s “San Francisco Remembered” group that my brother Barry and I follow. I said something like “nice to see the book edited by my uncle showing up here.” Barry did me one better, he posted the news release that came out when the book came out. That was a surprise to everyone but me (since I know Barry has scanned in copies of everything).

The book was, I believe, well received by the city’s movers and shakers and is in demand today by people who love Frisco. As for me, I went back a few times and briefly had an apartment there in the Mission District when my ship was in port in Alameda. The J Church streetcar ran past my front door (and still does). I looked at real estate values lately and see that the three-flat building where my aunt lived is now valued at over a million dollars. That’s why I never went back for good.

But, I digress; The news release begins like this:

After all these years, how nice to see people are still talking about it and looking for copies.

Malcolm