A cool selection of fiction

From my colleagues at Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Child of Sorrow by Melinda Clayton

When fourteen-year-old foster child Johnathan Thomas Woods is suspected of murder, an old letter and a tacky billboard advertisement lead him to the office of attorney Brian Stone. Recognizing the sense of hopelessness lurking under John’s angry façade, Stone is soon convinced of his innocence. When John offers up his lawn-mowing money as payment, Stone realizes this is a case he can’t refuse.

In the face of overwhelming evidence assembled by the prosecution, Stone and his team find themselves in a race against time to save an angry boy who’s experienced more than his fair share of betrayal, a boy who more often than not doesn’t seem interested in saving himself.

An Inchworm Takes Wing by Robert Hays

In the tranquil solitude of a darkened Room 12 in the ICU on the sixth floor of Memorial Hospital’s Wing C, a mortal existence is drawing to an end. His head and torso swathed in bandages, his arms and legs awkwardly positioned in hard casts and layers of heavy gauze, he’s surrounded by loved ones yet unable to communicate, isolated within his own thoughts and memories.

He does not believe himself to be an extraordinary man, simply an ordinary one, a man who’s made choices, both good and bad. A man who was sometimes selfish, sometimes misguided, sometimes kind and wise. A man who fought in a war in which he lost a part of his soul, who then became a teacher and worked hard to repair the damage.

When faced with the end, how does one reconcile the pieces of an ordinary life? Does a man have the right to wish for wings to carry him to a summit he believes he doesn’t deserve to reach?

Chasing Eve by Sharon Heath

Everyone expected big things from Ariel Thompkins. Wasn’t she the girl who’d roped her friends into one madcap adventure after another, who’d met the challenge of losing both parents before turning eighteen, who’d gone on to graduate summa cum laude from UCLA? So how did this livewire end up delivering the day’s mail for the U.S. Postal Service, hunkering down each night with her half-blind cat in front of the TV, ruminating over the width of her thighs? It looked as though it would take a miracle to get her out of her rut. Who knew that miracle would come in the form of an acutely candid best friend and a motley crew of strangers—a homeless drunk once aptly nicknamed “Nosy,” a lonely old woman seeing catastrophe around every corner, a shy teenager fleeing sexual abuse, a handsome young transplant from the Midwest with a passion for acting and for Ariel herself? Not to mention the fossil remains of a flat-faced crone who just might have been the ancestress of everyone alive today? Chasing Eve takes us on a funny, sad, hair-raising adventure into the underbelly of the City of Angels, where society’s invisible people make a difference to themselves and to others, and where love sometimes actually saves the day.

Who’s Munching by Milkweed? by Smoky Zeidel

When Ms. Gardener discovers something has been munching on her milkweed plants, she embarks on a fun and educational monarch butterfly journey that enchants both children and adults. 

With Photographs. Zeidel is a Master Gardener.

Nightbeat: Why Book Sales Are Down

Nightbeat column, Star-Gazer News Service, Junction City, TX, July 1, 2021–Woke up early this morning because the “patriots” across the street were firing off cherry bombs and M-80s before the dawn’s early light even had a chance to pull itself together.

When I called the cops, the 911 dispatcher said they thought all that racket was “simply another neighborhood gang war, so hadn’t bothered to investigate.” I made coffee and checked to see if my typewriter had finished the column I started last night. Unfortunately, the only words on the otherwise blank sheet of Eaton’s Corrasable Bond typewriter paper was the title:

Nightbeat: Why Book Sales Are Down

Sometimes evil spirits, haints, and things that go bump in the night write my columns while I’m sleeping or passed out. No luck, so I showered, shaved, drank two cups of Maxwell House Coffee, and walked to the bad part of the neighborhood which, actually, is right next door. I cut through the unmowed backyards so the “patriots” wouldn’t see me and knocked on the man’s back door.

“Who sent you?” he asked.

“Bob Costas,” I whispered.

The door openly quickly and a withered arm snaked out and yanked me into the mudroom which, coincidentally, was filled with mud.

My source looked like death warmed over. “What do you need?”

“The straight skinny about falling book sales,” I said.

“Did James Patterson die last night?”

“No, but that wouldn’t matter since Tom Clancy is still churning out bestsellers.”

“When you’re right, you’re right, Jock,” he said as he lit up a Lucky Strike. “Otherwise, serious small press authors are being hurt because everyone thinks they have a book in them–actually, many books.”

“The old gag was ‘every journalist thinks he has a book in him and that’s where it should stay,'” I replied.

“My sources tell me the old rules and the old morals no longer count. Today’s self-published and small-press authors have developed writer’s diarrhea.”

“That stinks.”

“No sh_t. They’re–how should I put this?–spewing out cookie-cutter genre books at the rate of thousands of words per day per person. It’s the chief cause of global warming and insanity. I checked a secret survey last week and, as it turns out, only two or three people in the country are not writing books. You know what that means.”

He took a swig of Jack Daniels and passed me the bottle.

“Damn, that’s good,” I said. “Of course I know what it means. It means that Larry, Moe, and Curry, and the scum across the street are the only people out there who are still reading.”

“Damn straight.”

“So, that means that two or three people are using different names to post highly positive reviews on Amazon for those tawdry books while the good writers are lucky to find a review anywhere.”

“You planning to stay for breakfast.”

“Bacon and eggs?” I asked hopefully.

“Bangers and mash with gravy.”

“I’ll pass.”

“As always, this conversation never happened.”

“I know.”

I went home, typed up my notes, and faxed this column to the newspaper. The editor wouldn’t like it, but I don’t give a flaming rat’s butt about that because she knows I know she’s one of the people ruining literature with her 40-book series “The Piper and the Piper’s Missus.” People are addicted to it. It’s worse than Fentanyl.

Her readers are reviewing her books before they’re even released. We’re entering the end of times, kind readers, and you read it here first.

Story filed by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter

 

 

Briefly noted: ‘A Search for Safe Passage’

Available from the association’s online shop.

When I saw a story about this book and the related efforts near the Great Smoky Mountain’s National Park in the summer 2021 issue of “National Parks Magazine,” I had to share it here. The author, Frances Figart, is the creative services director of the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Her book, as the article says, “is part of an effort to raise awareness about the real-life situation along Interstate 40, a four-lane road that runs through the Pigeon River Gorge” near the park.

I know the road well, but it’s not a friend of the wildlife that find it to be either a fence or a death trap to their natural migrations through the area. A coalition of groups is looking for solutions, including animal overpasses and tunnels.

From the Publisher

“A Search for Safe Passage” tells the story of best friends Bear and Deer who grew up together on the North side of a beautiful Appalachian gorge. In the time of their grandparents, animals could travel freely on either side of a fast-flowing river, but now the dangerous Human Highway divides their home range into the North and South sides. On the night of a full moon, two strangers arrive from the South with news that will lead to tough decisions, a life-changing adventure, and new friends joining in a search for safe passage. The book is closely connected to Safe Passage: The I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project, a new public education and infrastructure development campaign in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. It includes an additional nonfiction section with educational lessons about animal habitat requirements, behavior, migration patterns, and roadway ecology problems and solutions developed with input from both international and local experts. Aimed at readers ages 7 to 13. 122 pages, 5.5″ x 8.5″.

Beautifully illustrated by Emma DuFort, the book presents a compelling story that should help make young people aware of oversights (being corrected in many areas) of the federal highway system when it comes to the animal populations who live where humans want to drive cars and trucks.

–Malcolm

‘scenic science of the national parks,’ by Emily Hoff and Maygen Keller

This beautifully illustrated, well-written guide presents a capsule of information about each U. S. National park in an easy-to-use format that will make this a take-into-the-field companion. There’s even a place for each park’s “passport” stamp.

For each park, you’ll find a superlative statement, crowd-pleaser hikes, primary mammals and plants, a so-called “iconic experience,” and a “worth noting” fact. This book uses illustrations rather than coffee-table-book photographs. These are immensely helpful in making quick identifications of what you’ll see in the park.

When I first picked up this book, I looked up the parks I know well and found the information to be accurate and spot-on in terms of each park’s ambiance and character.

From the Publisher

Explore the fascinating science behind the national parks in this charming illustrated guide.

The national parks are some of the most beloved, visited, and biodiverse places on Earth. They’re also scientific playgrounds where you can learn about plants, animals, and our planet’s coolest geological features firsthand. Scenic Science of the National Parks curates and breaks down the compelling and offbeat natural science highlights of each park, from volcanic activity, glaciers, and coral reefs to ancient redwood groves, herds of bison, giant bats, and beyond. Featuring full-color illustrations, information on the history and notable features of each park, and insider tips on how to get the most out of your visit, this delightful book is the perfect addition to any park lover’s collection.

From the Opening Pages

We know this looks like a book, but our collection of pages is actually more like a secret decoder ring or a pair of X-ray glasses because it will help you see some of the most iconic landscapes in the United States in a whole new way. Whether you’re traveling through the national parks by car, bicycle, boat, or foot, or even in your imagination, this is an opportunity to unlock the scientific stories behind the scenery.

This guidebook will teach you to spot the extraterrestrial-like organisms lurking in Yellowstone, the spiky teddy bear clones in Joshua Tree, the slick snails of Acadia—and more! Contained here are true stories about plants, rocks, animals, bodies of water, and the night sky that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else than in these parks. We’ve steered away from people-centric history and from big, obvious questions (like, How did the Grand Canyon form?) in favor of more fascinating, offbeat questions (like, How are strange ocean animals that look like plants connected to the rocks that make up the Grand Canyon?). This is an invitation to be inquisitive and pay attention to the small details that bring the big picture into view.

We had a blast writing this book and hope our work sets you off on a question-asking frenzy of your own. Go forth and get curious!

This is the best general national parks guidebook I’ve seen in a long time. Better yet, it was an early Father’s Day gift from my daughter.

–Malcolm

P.S. I had her permission to open the package early!

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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BRIEFLY NOTED: American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee

I have no idea why it took me nine years to get around to reading Karen Abbott’s detailed, well-written, and a dripping-with-atmosphere book about Gypsy Rose Lee (1911-1970). I enjoyed the book, partly because of the nostalgia of vaudeville and burlesque that I heard about years ago when watching The Steve Allen Show, Johnny Carson, and other programs that often featured older performers who got their start in the older art forms. The use of the word “art” here depends on who you’re talking to.

There’s an old theater I know that once featured Vaudeville acts that’s being restored and serves its community by using its facilities for regional theater groups. On several occasions, I’ve asked the management why their website says absolutely nothing about the Vaudeville performers who appeared there during its heyday.  They said the old posters and records would require a grant to compile. Get one, I said. Don’t let this slide because without displaying what happened there in the old days, your theater is without most of its heart.

If you saw the 1962 film “Gypsy” (that grew out of Gypsy’s 1957 autobiography), you were exposed to a cleaned-up version of the real story. I liked the movie, especially the performances by Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood. But compared to Abbott’s book, the movie is a mere hint about the realities of the heart and soul of Vaudeville and burlesque–and the hopefuls, stars, gangsters (and other denizens) who made the system work.

From the Publisher:

America was flying high in the Roaring Twenties. Then, almost overnight, the Great Depression brought it crashing down. When the dust settled, people were primed for a star who could distract them from reality. Enter Gypsy Rose Lee, a strutting, bawdy, erudite stripper who possessed a gift for delivering exactly what America needed. With her superb narrative skills and eye for detail, Karen Abbott brings to life an era of ambition, glamour, struggle, and survival. Using exclusive interviews and never-before-published material, she vividly delves into Gypsy’s world, including her intense triangle relationship with her sister, actress June Havoc, and their formidable mother, Rose, a petite but ferocious woman who literally killed to get her daughters on the stage. Weaving in the compelling saga of the Minskys—four scrappy brothers from New York City who would pave the way for Gypsy Rose Lee’s brand of burlesque and transform the entertainment landscape—Karen Abbott creates a rich account of a legend whose sensational tale of tragedy and triumph embodies the American Dream.

From the Book:

“Mother was,’ June thought, ‘a beautiful little ornament that was damaged.’ Her broken edges cut her daughters in ways both emotional and physical, and only sharpened with age.”

“And truth is malleable, something to be bent or stretched or made to disappear, but direct lies always find the path back to the one who tells them.”

“Later, the sisters would remember things differently, as sisters do, old grudges and misunderstandings refracting each memory, bending them in opposite directions.”

From the Critics:

American Rose is a fitting tribute to an amazing woman, telling her story beautifully while revealing as much about post-Depression America as it does about celebrity life. It’s cultural history at its best.”—Rebecca Skloot, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

“Abbott creates a brainy striptease similar to the one her subject may have performed.”—Newsday

“With staggeringly in-depth research . . . Abbott composes a story wrought with personal drama and insight into a dark era in American history. . . . The story is as beguiling as it is timeless.”—Elle

The book takes you into the heart of things Vaudeville and burlesque, and we find that it’s not as pure as we wish it were, nor as kind. But the grit is a large part of the story, one worth telling and one worth reading about and ya gotta love it in spite of its worst sins, for it was a heady time, the roaring twenties when everyone was pushing the envelope.

–Malcolm

You may also like.

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Amazon Author’s Page

Facebook author’s page – an invitation

You are hereby and herewith, &c. invited to stop by my Facebook author’s page. I change the header from time to time, but right now it looks like this:

As you can see by the graphic, the page mentions my work. Yet, it is by no means a giant advertisement.

In fact, most posts focus on publishing news, author interviews, upcoming titles, book reviews, opinions and criticism, writing tips, genres, and book news that provide you with a snapshot of the latest activities from the world of books. I usually post about five links a day so that visitors can quickly scan the page to see if there’s anything that leaps out and grabs their attention.

Sure, I also have a Facebook profile, but it’s personal stuff, weird memes, pictures of kitties, general news, and other typical stuff that friends want to see. Most of the book world information is on my author’s page.

I hope to see you there.

Malcolm

I was happy to see that the first reviewer of the new “Fate’s Arrows” audiobook was happy with the story and the narrator’s presentation.

 

 

Oops, I’ve already read this one

I read two kinds of fiction, dime-a-dozen thriller and police/black ops books from the grocery store and literary fiction by established authors. The major books I remember, the grocery store novels I occasionally buy a second time without realizing I’ve already read them.

Some people keep yearly reading lists. If I did that, I would never again sit down with a “new” novel and 15-20 pages and realize I’ve been here before. I’m not organized enough to log in every novel I read into a spreadsheet.

Years ago, my wife and others who read romance novels used to complain about authors/publishers re-issuing old novels under new names. The authors I read don’t do that; it’s just that in spite of the over-the-top James-Bond kind of action, the plots and action don’t vary that much. So, the descriptions on the backs of the books don’t provide me with enough information for me to make sure I haven’t already read the book.

In general, I write better when I’m reading. So I go through dozens of books a year. Some I enjoy re-reading, but not the grocery store black ops stuff. Unlike Amazon, Publix and Food Lion don’t display a message with each book on the shelf that tells me when and if I purchased it in the past.

My reading is always in a state of chaos and it’s too late now to get it under control. Does anyone else find themselves buying the same books more than once, though not intentionally? As William Bendix often said on the old TV series “The Life of Riley,” “What a revoltin’ development this is!”

Malcolm

‘Firefly Lane’ by Kristin Hannah

Best I can tell, we really escaped 2020 and are now slogging our way through 2021. If this true, then I’m 12 years behind the times reading Firefly Lane.

It’s a well-written story about two schoolgirls who, though opposites in many ways, become close friends and make a pact to remain best friends forever. One  (Tully) becomes a rich and famous news anchor. The other (Kate), who showed a lot of promise as a writer, ended up having a busy family life as a stay-at-home mom.

There’s a lot of realistic push-me/pull-you between Tully and Kate because their lives unfold quite differently, leading to differences of style and opinion, including the question of whether or not Kate is overprotective when it comes to her daughter. Tully and the daughter think so.

If you read Hannah’s afterword, you probably understood why she ended the book as she did. She handled it well. Nonetheless, I didn’t like it. I saw it as adding insult to injury insofar as Kate’s role in the story was concerned. Kate’s life was rather that of the Biblical Job and the ending made her a tragic character rather than a gracefully aging mother contentedly watching her children grow into adults partly in spite of Tully and because of Tully.

Worth reading,  but it needed something different and less predictable in the final chapters. I haven’t watched any episodes of the Netflix series.

Malcolm

Some readers wanted a bombastic ending to “Sarabande.” I chose a minimalist approach that reflected, in my view, who the character was and how she had changed.

‘The Unwilling’ by John Hart

This is probably the most powerful crime novel I’ve read in years, but I’ll tell you now, it’s not for the squeamish. Many of the characters in this novel have no souls or are flawed in some fundamental way the is broken beyond mending. Gibson French, the son of a police detective and an overprotective mother lost his older brothers to the Vietnam war, one to death, the other–Jason–to horrors that changed him into an unknowable man.

Jason comes home after serving time in prison and wants to get to know Gibson (Gibby). They drink beer, they meet women, they talk. Innocent, enough, right, until a young woman dies in a horrific fashion and Jason is the presumed killer. Detective French doesn’t want Gibby to be influenced by Jason, much less drawn into probable crimes and the wrong crowd.

All of Hart’s novels are memorable. No doubt, the family dynamics made The Unwilling difficult to write. This novel is, perhaps, his best, though I think it was more gritty than it needed to be. But, given the characters, perhaps not. I am happy with the ending, though the characters and the novel’s readers go through hell to get there.

Around the edges of the plot, we have Vietnam’s My Lai massacre and the prospect that it wasn’t the only war crime that happened during the war. Jason knows but hasn’t been willing to speak of it.

Gibby comes of age–in spades, one might say–and, the wonder of this novel is that he survives the process. In fact, perhaps his parents also survive the process. These are strong characters, a twisted plot, and issues that will stick with the reader long after the last page of the novel is reached. That’s what makes good fiction.

Malcolm

My reference shelf: ‘Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable’

Originally published in 1870 by the Reverend E. Cobham Brewer, it was aimed at the growing number of people who did not have a university education, but wanted to understand the origins of phrases and historical or literary allusions. The ‘phrase’ part of the title refers mainly to the explanation of various idioms and proverbs, while the “fable” part might more accurately be labelled “folklore” and ranges from classical mythology to relatively recent literature. On top of this, Brewer added notes on important historical figures and events, and other things which he thought would be of interest, such as Roman numerals. – Wikipedia

Prior to the Internet’s arrival allowing us to Google almost anything, I found this book to be a handy (and often distracting reference) for tracking down the origin or meaning of popular phrases, people, odd words, and the other kinds of stuff that authors ponder.

For example, from my 14th edition published in 1989, here are a few entries:

  • About the size of it: “How matters stand, approximately the facts of the case.”
  • Adamastor: “The spirit of the Cape of Storms (Cape of Good Hope), described by Camoëns (1524-1580) in the Lusiads, who appeared to Vasco da Gama and foretold disaster to all attempting the voyage to India.”
  • Blue-pictures: “Indecent cinema shows. The name derives from the custom of Chinese brothels being painted blue externally.”
  • Cracked pots last longest: An old proverb. Long-sufferers from ill health or some disability often outlive the seemingly fit and healthy.”

For authors, the book is a gold mine. I’ve shown only a few short entries here that will fit in this post. Some of the entries’ definitions often go on for multiple paragraphs and include cross-references. Many entries include similar words or phrases that alphabetically follow the first.

Here’s the publisher’s description for the most recent edition:

‘This is, in fact, not what you were looking for; but it’s much more interesting’ Terry Pratchett

Much loved for its wit and wisdom since 1870,Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable takes you on a captivating adventure through its trademark blend of language, culture, myth and legend. Nowhere else could the histories of the guillotine and Guinness stout sit so comfortably alongside the KGB and the Keystone Kops. Brewer’s is a catalogue of curiosities and absurdities that, over almost 150 years in print, has acquired near-mythical status.


Edited by Susie Dent, this new edition includes a brand new Collection of Curious Words and many new and updated entries. Its pages brim with esoteric and entertaining oddities – everything from curious customs to the world of newspapers and political alliances of yesteryear – all seen through the distinctive Brewer lens.

This twentieth edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable encapsulates all the charm and wit that characterise its predecessors and maintains the standards of scholarship and eclecticism that have long been its hallmark.

Whether you’re a committed Brewerphile or a newcomer to its pages of fascinating entries, this edition will draw you in and keep you glued to its rich mix of eccentric nuggets.

As Susie Dent explains in the foreword, Brewer’s “is unlike any other reference book that exists, anywhere.”

Malcolm

If you read all of my books (why not start today?), you’ll probably discover that I’ve made use of Brewer’s Dictionary.