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Review: ‘Trust Me’ by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Trust MeTrust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author Hank Ryan brings a resume of honors and awards for her work as a reporter and a novelist, and that alone promises that Trust Me will be a chilling mystery/thriller. And it is. The plot is complex, the characters are interesting (and occasionally flawed), and the story is compelling.

In a storyline reminiscent of the 2011 Casey Marie Anthony case in Florida and the 2017 Rachelle Bond case in Massachusetts, Ashlyn Bryant has been arrested for killing her young daughter, putting the body in a garbage bag, and dumping her in Boston Harbor. Journalist Mercer Hennessey, who is still grieving the recent deaths of her husband and daughter in a car accident, agrees with a colleague’s proposal to write a book about the trial partly as a way of getting herself on her feet again and partly because the public’s interest in the case might turn the book into a bestseller.

Like the majority of people following the case, Mercer believes Ashland is guilty but still thinks that through her research and her live TV feed from the courtroom, she can write an objective story. As she follows the story, Mercer is greatly conflicted about the death of her own daughter and any possibility Ashland could be found innocent.

The first major plot twist comes 180 pages into this 459-page novel when the verdict is announced, one that I won’t reveal here. Readers might wonder, what’s the author going to do with the rest of the book. The answer is somewhat malicious, in a well-written mystery/thriller kind of way. Through a rather unusual arrangement, Mercer is given access to Ashland so she can get more of the defendant’s personal story for the book.

Here is where the heavy psychological machinations begin. Mercer dispises Ashland and Ashland distrusts Mercer. Both have strong reasons for their feelings. By the time readers are nearing the end of the book, Mercer has grown to distrust everybody, including the colleague who got her the book contract, her late husband, another reporter on the case, and (of course) Ashland. She believes she’s being followed, that her life and Ashland’s lives are in danger, and that constructing a reasonable book is now the least of her problems. Trust Me is a very dark book, and the truth is flexible.

The second major plot twist occurs when Mercer decides the only way out of the deception and doubt is by turning the tables on one of those whom she thinks has been lying to her. Readers know she has something mind because she discusses the case with people she hasn’t talked with before and as that scene ends, she says “Here’s what I’m thinking.” But the reader isn’t a party to what that is. Two chapters later, the plot twist occurs. While it’s satisfactory, as is the novel’s conclusion, this plot twist involves an authorial trick.

We have been inside Mercer’s head for an entire book. We know what she worries about and that she plans to do next. Then, suddenly, a veil is thrown over her thoughts and in the pages leading up to the plot twist, she isn’t thinking about how to make it work, how to set it up, and how to keep it secret. In real life, Mercer would be fretting and pondering the details. As the book has been written up to this point, she would also be going over the details in her mind. But, we’re suddenly cut off from her thoughts in order for the surprise to be a surprise.

This is a point-of-view trick and it’s disappointing to see it used here when, quite likely, the plot twist would have been more harrowing if we’d known what it was and what Mercer was concerned about. While I knocked down the number of stars for this authorial trickery and for the repetitiveness of many of the conversations between Mercer and Ashland, I still see the book as an interesting read in spite of its flaws.

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Malcolm

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Review: ‘The President is Missing by Clinton and Patterson

The President Is MissingThe President Is Missing by Bill Clinton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Those of us who write novels would probably sell out our own grandmothers to collaborate with a former popular President of the United States. The good news is this: the book delivers.

I found myself thinking about the mechanics of collaboration. Did Clinton approach Patterson or did Patterson approach, Clinton? Who wrote what? Who thought of the plot? We may never know. But the plot and presentation succeed because they focus on cyber-warfare or cyber-terrorism, both of which seem to be a real threat these days. That’s the strength of the story: it focuses on a fear many of us have.

The President of the book is believable. (I would hope so.) He’s facing prospective impeachment, something the country lives with every day. He takes risks that make sense to the reader even before we know the extent of the danger. What more could one ask of a chief executive?

We have an unusual mix here: prospective terrorists offering to help the U.S. A potential traitor in the administration’s inner circle. Who can the President trust? The reader might wonder, has any of this happened already and still remains classified?

The novel has a satisfactory conclusion. I could have done without the Presidential address to Congress near the end of the novel because it focused not only on the political polarization within the novel but spoke the polarization of views outside the novel, that is to say, the fact that parties and individuals can’t seem to work together for the common good. Yes, they should be able to do that, but the end of the novel seemed to be a bit of an editorial.

This novel is an entertaining read about issues that might (one day or already) impact the U.S. and other Western nations. It’s food for thought about our dependence on the Internet and about how the nation could or should react to cyber threats. One suspects that Clinton’s knowledge of the presidency brings realism to the story. The scary thing about the book–and why one keeps reading–is that it seems all too real.

Malcolm

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Bees vs Wasps, Soccer, Tennis, and More Hardcover Releases from Thomas-Jacob

  • When I got stung by 8 wasps several weeks ago, I didn’t expect my wife to try to top my experience. Okay, now she’s in first place with 23 aggressive bumblebee stings. She was mowing high grass and brush and hit a hidden nest. I took her to the ER where the folks at Rome, Georgia’s Redmond Hospital couldn’t have been nicer or more responsive. We were there about an hour while they put her on an IV of Epinephrine, Benadryl, saline, and a steroid of some kind. She has lots of swollen places and the expected amount of itching.
  • Great news about the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team beating the Netherlands. I wish them luck in their lawsuit that seeks to equalize prizes and pay between their teams and the men’s teams. There’s no excuse for paying the women a pittance.
  • Today is grocery store day for me, so I was happy that Serena William’s Wimbledon match was set for 8 a.m. She won. That started my day off on a positive note.
  • Among the most recent hardback releases from Thomas-Jacob are the new editions of Melinda Clayton’s four-book Cedar Hollow Series that begins with Appalachian Justice.  This is a highly popular series.

 

  • Being cheap, I waited until The President is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton came out in trade paperback to buy a copy. I’ve enjoyed the book primarily because it focuses on the problem of cyber-warfare as a real issue that could totally disable the government, military, and commerce of a nation. A very readable book.
  • My upcoming Special Investigative Reporter, a satirical novel about (guess what) an investigative reporter, is working its way through editing, formatting, cover design, and a book trailer. More about that later. Here’s a snippet:

The meatloaf was surprisingly lousy. It was the kind of meatloaf Aunt Edna fixed Jock when he was an innocent kid on or about the time when she was losing track of things such as who he actually was and what ingredients belonged in the food.

  • Thanks to all of you who have been posting reviews on Audible for the audio editions of Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, and Lena.
  • Gosh, you’d think a name-brand dryer would last more than 18 months. Ours stopped working last night. We can air dry (ha ha) stuff, but there’s no heat. If it were older, we’d simply replace it, but we’re not like those people who buy new cars whenever the ashtrays get full. First, the bee attack and the ER, and now the dryer quits. Typical trickster crap from the universe.

Malcolm

Words in good order are a treasure

As I re-read Amanda Coplin’s The Orcharist (2012), I’m reminded–as I always am when I read a great book a second or third time–of the treasures the author’s words present that might be overlooked the first time through by reader’s focus on the plot.

David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous) speaks of the languages of the forest that most of us miss because we either don’t understand them or aren’t paying attention. In addition to animal tracks and calls, there are things that move (leaves blown across the sand, for example) that are another language we could learn if we wanted to understand the planet.

When I took a typesetting course in college as part of my journalism degree, the professor said that the best way to learn about a new typeface was to take a printed copy of it and trace every letter on an overlaid sheet of tissue paper. To know type, you need to see all of the thick and thin places, the ascenders and descenders, the legibility of the face on the page, and whether or not the type works best for headlines or text.

When we pay attention to a novel on a second or third reading, rather like noticing the language of a forest or the personality of a typeface, we see more than we saw the first time we read it. I’ve read The Prince of Tides and A Scot’s Quair at least five times, and each time I find a new nugget of gold or a hidden diamond. I usually let a fair amount of time go by before I’ll read a book again. That tends to make it seem newer when I pick it up for another reading.

I see on the Internet that some people track the number of books and their titles each year. I’m not sure why. I guess that’s okay, though it might emphasize quantity over quality, including making it harder to insert time in the schedule for re-reading one’s favorites.

Reading a book once seems to me to be similar to buying anything else and using it only once. Okay, maybe it’s not similar at all. But once the book is there on the shelf or on the display in one’s Kindle library, it still has things to say to us.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat.

 

 

Book Bits: Catherine Chung, Sharon Heath, ‘Cygnet,’ Amazon, Linda Holmes, Mueller report

At my age, a vigorous, bone-crushing, muscle twisting workout comes from spending several hours on the riding mower. While recuperating, I found a few links you might enjoy. Or you might not. Long-time readers of this blog know that ever since high school, I’ve been fascinated by writings about Carl Jung, alchemy, and quantum mechanics (the many worlds interpretation), so I’m happy to see a review of a very readable book that has uncovered multiple levels and/or universes of meaning (Item 2) since we’re all entangled one way or another.

Have fun exploring the books and authors links this week.

  1. Essay: On Being a Woman Who Loves Math, by Catherine Chung – “All my life I’ve been aware of the disheartening fact that as a society, we generally find intellect off-putting in women, and do our best to squash it.” (Lit Hub)
  2. Review: Tizita (2017) By Sharon Heath, Deltona, FL: Thomas-Jacob Publishing, by Frances Hatfield
    “Tizita, like the first novel before it in The Fleur Trilogy, The History of My Body, is as utterly original as its chief protagonist, and in some of the same, brilliant, moving, and laugh-out-loud hilarious ways.” (Psychological Perspectives)
  3. Excerpt: ‘Cygnet’: Featured Fiction from Season Butler – “Publishers Weekly called the book poignant, adding that ‘Butler has created an appealingly rich world with quirky, flawed characters and a dramatic landscape determined by the constant action of wind and water. Butler delivers a potent and finely calibrated novel.’” (The Millions)
  4. Opinion: Amazon Says It is Not a ‘Lawless’ Retail Platform As Charged by ‘NYT’ – “The New York Times’ recent feature on Amazon, which focuses on how much control the tech giant exerts over the book business and how detrimental that control might be for the sector’s health, has provoked a response from the company. Specifically, Amazon responded to claims in the article that it takes a lax approach to policing the sale of counterfeit books on its website, saying, in a blog post, that it ‘strictly prohibits the sale of counterfeit products’ and ‘takes proactive steps to drive counterfeits in our stores to zero.” (Publishers Weekly)
  5. Interview: Linda Holmes with Stephenie Harrison – “I have wanted to write a novel . . . always. I can’t remember when I didn’t think that would be the absolute greatest thing I could do. But I would start things, write a few pages and just get intimidated that I couldn’t keep going. I played around with writing fiction for many years and got a little more serious in 2012 when I decided to devote some time to this story. But again, I worked on it for a while, then left it alone. I didn’t pick it up again until sometime in the fall of 2016.” (Book Page)
  6. Quotation: “I spent half my money on gambling, alcohol and wild women. The other half I wasted.” ― WC Fields
  7. Wikipedia photo

    Feature: How Jenna Bush Hager became the new book club queen, by David Canfield – “Around 10 minutes into my interview with Jenna Bush Hager, I make a careless mistake: I assume her new Today show book club isn’t merely a one-woman band. ‘You say ‘You guys,’ but you really are just talking about one person — me!’ she responds, laughing. ‘Reese Witherspoon was on the show the other day, and we were talking about it. She’s like, ‘I have a whole team, Jenna!’ The problem is, I definitely need to read the whole book before I recommend it — and I’m a pretty picky reader.’ (Entertainment)

  8. Wikipedia Graphic

    New Title: A Mueller Report graphic novel will be released by San Diego publisher, by Michael Schaub – “Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has become something of a publishing phenomenon, with several book versions of the report flying off bookstore shelves. Now a San Diego publisher is planning to release a version of the report for those who might find the original a little too dry. IDW will publish a graphic-novel adaptation of the report next year, the press said in a news release.” (Los Angeles Times)

Book Bits is compiled randomly by malcolm R. Campbell, author of the “Florida Folk Magic Stories.”

 

People often ask if authors compete with each other

Sort of, kind of, maybe, if we’re up for the same award, but usually not.

In fact, if Amazon (or some unbiased guru) tells me that if I like book ABC, I will probably like book XYZ, I’ll probably take a look. Sure, I know Amazon wants me to buy more than I can afford to buy. But, if another author is writing books that Amazon thinks are competing with mine, I will probably want to read them. Why? I write the kinds of books I like to read, so if anyone else is doing it, I want to find their books.

Sometimes I’m surprised. I was looking for magical realism books this morning and found one on Amazon that came from an author I’d never heard of from a publisher I’d never heard of that had almost 4,000 customer reviews. After getting rid of a few initial feelings of jealousy, I wanted to find out how they did this. Usually, 4,000 customer reviews is something you expect for titles by famous writers. So how does somebody “come out of nowhere” and get that kind of response?

Unless one is a very avid magical realism reader and buys every new release, I doubt that my books are competing with this book. I have a feeling that I’m going to read this book. But first, I want to know how 4,000 people found out about it and took the time to post a review. Most people don’t review the books they read, so if 4,000 is a fraction of the book’s total number of readers, wow!

As writers, our first duty is telling stories. After that, the whole business falls into the black hole of marketing and promotion. So, when we see somebody who is successful, we want to know how they did it. We learn from each other, sometimes at conferences and panels and workshops, and sometimes through information on authors’ websites and interviews. Chances are, we will never be able to duplicate another author’s road to success exactly–or even inexactly. What s/he did, is probably so closely linked to who they are, where they are, the hundreds of choices of a lifetime they have made, that there is no way to “become them” and “do what they did.”

Perhaps we’ll learn one tip or a hundred tips. If so, we’re a little better off than we were before!

Malcolm

 

 

‘The Shoe Mender’s Lament and other short stories’ by Peter Ruffell

Peter Ruffell’s short foreword tells the reader that these 17 little stories, and the poem which completes the book, started life during writing sessions at Off The Cuff, a writing workshop in Weymouth. The length of these stories reflects that: they’re a little longer (and, thus, meatier) than flash fiction, but short enough to read one while you’re enjoying (say) a mid-morning cup of tea.

Source: ‘The Shoe Mender’s Lament and other short stories’ by Peter Ruffell | Judi Moore

Here’s a brief review by Judi Moore of a book I haven’t read. It sounds tempting. I love misdirection and humor with a touch of absurdity.  Not enough to drink tea (gag) while reading, but enough to pour a dram of a single malt whisky and plunge right in.

Malcolm

Book Bits: book tariffs, ‘Sorcery of Thorns,’ horror novels, Joy Harjo, Smoky Zeidel, Good Omens

This column of books, authors, and publishing links used to run frequently on this blog until I began shifting most of the links to my author’s page on Facebook. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that. So, for old time’s sake and/or a change of pace, here (after a long absence) is a page of links for readers, writers, and publishers.

Tariffs have been in the news lately, so I’ve included a link to one that affects books (item 1). Readers of this blog probably know that Joy Harjo is one of my favorite poets. I’m pleased to see her new recognition of her talents. (item 4).

  1. News: The Book Industry Speaks Out Against China Tariffs, by Jim Milliot – “Five members of the book publishing and bookselling industry appeared Tuesday at hearings being conducted by the U.S. Trade Representative over the Trump administration’s proposal to impose a 25% tariff on $300 billion of goods imported from China, including books. The representatives at the public hearing emphasized a number of reasons why books should be excluded from the tariffs, arguing that because publishers and booksellers operate on thin margins, the imposition of tariffs would almost certainly lead to higher book prices for consumers and could force some bookstores and publishers out of business.” (Publishers Weekly)
  2. Review: Sorcery of Thorns, by Margaret Rogerson, June 2019, fantasy 14 and up – “An apprentice librarian faces a magical threat against a Great Library…An enthralling adventure replete with spellbinding characters, a slow-burning love story, and a world worth staying lost in.” (Kirkus)
  3. Lists: Terrify Yourself with These Ten Horror Novels, by Brian Evenson – “Short stories tend to be scarier than novels: their tightness of focus allows them to do away with pesky things like backstory and character development and elaborate setting and offer a blazing unity of effect. A novel’s scare is more a creeping dread, a tension that builds slowly and inexorably and leaves you deeply unsettled even after the book is finished. For me, the most frightening books are not about scary clowns or demons or witchcraft, but those that show the awful things humans are capable of doing to one another.” (The Millions)
  4. Harjo – Wikipedia Photo

    News: Joy Harjo Becomes The First Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, by Lynn Heary and Patrick Jarenwattananon – “Poet, writer and musician Joy Harjo — a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation — often draws on Native American stories, languages and myths. But she says that she’s not self-consciously trying to bring that material into her work. If anything, it’s the other way around.” (NPR) See Harjo’s website here.

  5. How To: 7 Things to Look Out for While Proofreading, by Lauren M. Bailey – “Each stage in the editing process improves a manuscript and requires an acute attention to detail. But even if you’ve written the most brilliant prose and meticulously researched your book, readers will dismiss the work as sloppy, amateur, and unprofessional if it’s riddled with typos. Frustratingly, these types of mistakes are often the hardest to catch in our own work. Our brains are so busy with the higher-order tasks in writing that our eyes literally see what they want to see. Though proofreading errors are difficult to spot, once you know what to look for—and have some handy tricks for uncovering them—you’ll be amazed (and probably slightly horrified) at what you can catch.” (Kirkus)
  6. New EditionsSmoky Zeidel’s poetry collections (Garden Metamorphosis and Sometimes I Think I Am Like Water) are now available in hardcover editions. (Thomas-Jacob Publishing)
  7. Film: Bestselling Novel by French-Moroccan Leila Slimani To Hit the Big Screen, by Teresa Kerr – “Rabat – The Perfect Nanny, a bestselling novel by French-Moroccan Leila Slimani is making its way to the big screen, thanks to three production companies: Legendary, Why Not Productions, and Pan-Européenne.” (Morocco World News)
  8. Quotation: “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” –  Ray Bradbury
  9. News: Thousands petition Netflix to cancel Amazon Prime’s Good Omens, by Alison Flood – “More than 20,000 Christians have signed a petition calling for the cancellation of Good Omens, the television series adapted from Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s 1990 fantasy novel – unfortunately addressing their petition to Netflix when the series is made by Amazon Prime.” (The Guardian)
  10. Obituary: Uighur author dies following detention in Chinese ‘re-education’ camp, by Alison Flood – “The death of the prominent Uighur writer Nurmuhammad Tohti after being held in one of Xinjiang’s internment camps has been condemned as a tragic loss by human rights organisations.” (The Guardian)

Book Bits is compiled sooner or later by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of Conjure Woman’s Cat.

Poetry to the People BookMobile Tour

Tomorrow is the beginning of our 1,800- mile journey with House of SpeakEasy where we are traveling to 10 cities during the next 10 days to bring books and poetry to readers. We will be delivering books to undeserved communities and partners along the way on workshops, story exchanges, readings and more. The tour will depart from Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York tomorrow, Thursday, June 13. We hope to see you there!

Source: Poetry to the People: A BookMobile Tour – Narrative 4

A bookmobile in an Internet age? Yes, and why not. This story just makes me smile and feel good about the good people in the world.

Malcolm

Review: ‘Redemption Road’ by John Hart

Redemption RoadRedemption Road by John Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s enough darkness in this book to cause an eclipse of the sun soon after you begin reading. Elizabeth, the protagonist is a good cop with a good heart that is filled with life-affirming love and infinite grit. Her past was cruel to her and it’s neither gone nor forgotten.

Her story in this thriller will carry you through the darkness stemming from multiple characters whose self-righteous evil is as unflinching as Elizabeth’s heart. Thirteen years prior to the beginning of the novel, a policeman was convicted of killing a young woman and leaving her body on the altar of the church where Elizabeth’s father preaches. Elizabeth, who was a rookie cop at the time thought he was wrongly convicted. As a cop, he has a hard time surviving prison. When he gets out, the killings start again with the same MO. This appears to prove that everyone else on the police force is right about him and that Elizabeth is naive.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth is having her own troubles with the authorities over a case she’s involved in. The plot is complex and well constructed, the writing is superb, and the characters have more dimensions, secrets, and agonies than you can shake a stick at. At all times, the notion of a redemption road out of this chaos seems to many as an unlikely nirvana or simply a dead end.

The story is adeptly told and highly recommended.

–Malcolm

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