Audiobooks – Thrills for Your Ears

Audiobooks-thrills for your earsSo far, my blog posts have been about printed material and, occasionally, e-books. But, I have come across a new audiobook service, Chirp. Affiliated with BookBub, Chirp offers an alternative to Audible. A variety of genres are available in a range of prices. Being a lover of Sherlock Holmes, I purchased The Valley of Fear for $1.99 (plus New Jersey sales tax). The narration of this work is excellent. I noticed that prices for the daily deals ranged from $.99 to $4.99. Plus, there is no monthly or annual membership fee. That makes audiobooks thrills for your ears–and your wallet.

The likes of Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon), David Baldacci (The Fix, Total Control), and Michael Connelly (The Night Fire) are but a few available. I also noticed titles by James Patterson, David Sedaris, Charles Dickens and even Geoffrey Chaucer amongst the offerings.

Others, such as Audible, Scribd and Spotify, offer audiobooks, but at a price. To get the most of these apps, you need to have a membership (Audible, Scribd and Spotify) plus maybe pay for the audiobooks (Audible). At Chirp, the only monetary outlay is for the audiobook itself. With Chirp, you own the audiobook, but who knows what will happen if Spotify decides to discontinue offering them. There are other sites, like LibriVox, that offer free audiobooks, but the narration quality is spotty. Your local library may have books on CDs and offer audiobooks through OverDrive and Hoopla, but do they really have what you want to listen to? And how long is the wait list?

So far, I’m happy with Chirp for the selection of audiobooks, the quality of narration and the price. I’ll continue to scour the digital book world for other audio options. In my opinion, Chirp can bring thrills to your ears, and wallet.

Ceramics and Spies – A Real Conundrum

Warring States Conundrum - ceramics and spiesSeymour Grufferman’s The Warring States Conundrum depicts a laid-back investigation involving Chinese ceramics and spies. Winston Sage, a former epidemiologist (like the author), visualizes himself as a detective. Sage, with his wife, Julia, retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the climate, art galleries and fly fishing. Or so he thought.

When Bill Harvey, Sage’s neighbor, enlists his help to locate his missing wife, Sage accepts. Sage’s ability to trace cancer patients as part of his previous work affords little help finding Harvey’s wife. Nevertheless, he soldiers on as his interest is piqued by the high-quality Chinese ceramics that are a pivotal point in the case.

Whose Side are You On?

Jessica Harvey dealt in Chinese ceramics from the Warring States period in the East-West Gallery run by the Harveys. Her abrupt disappearance even has the police stumped. As Sage digs deeper by talking to Bill Harvey and other gallery owners, C. Y. Wong becomes increasingly important as Jessica’s main contact for the superlative ceramics he supplied to the gallery. Once Sage learns that Wong also works for Los Alamos National Laboratory, things heat up. From where are the top-notch ceramics coming? Are they payment to Wong for secrets? Wong’s story doesn’t add up. Sage’s gallery contacts in Hong Kong have never heard of Wong or his family as ceramic collectors. What is Wong’s real story? Was Jessica Harvey working as a fence? Can Sage muddle through with a little help from the FBI? One thing is certain. Sage never envisioned his retirement would mix ceramics and spies.

This first adventure in a Winston Sage trilogy is very leisurely paced, sometimes too laid back, especially in the first half. Sage engages in a lot of gallery hopping, eating lunch out with friends and fly fishing. Nonetheless, I found the protagonist enjoyable, if somewhat stodgy. His friends—Charles Herkimer, George de Leon and Chuck Orsini—are distinctive oddballs who enliven the story. Overall, I liked the resolution enough to want to read the next installment.

The Warring States Conundrum
Seymour Grufferman
©2018

Great Mystery Mags – Turn the Doldrums Tide

I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Blame this lack of motivation on pandemic blues (still sticking close to home due to household members’ underlying conditions). This has also caused a reading slump. I began subscribing to two great mystery mags to turn the doldrums tide: Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mystery Scene.

Great Mystery Mag - Ellery Queen Mystery MagazineI’ve read Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine off and on over the years, buying current editions wherever I could find them—usually in my semi-local big-box bookstore chain. (Unfortunately, I don’t live near any independent bookstores.) I’m a short story fan, whether or not they contain a murder or other mystery. So, reading this mag is a no-brainer for me. Writers who’ve contributed are a who’s who in literary fiction: Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Dashiell Hammett, Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway, to name but a few.

Along with stories from the likes of Marilyn Todd, most issues have two regular columns. The first, “Blog Bytes,” highlights websites that discuss the mystery and thriller book scenes, as well as authors and booksellers. The second, “The Jury Box,” highlights upcoming mystery fare from various publishers. EQMM is now published as a double issue every other month. It will seem a long, dry wait until the next issue comes over the transom.

Great mystery mag - Mystery SceneMystery Scene defines itself as “Your Guide to the Best in Mystery, Crime and Suspense.” This magazine normally contains articles about, and interviews with, current authors at the top of their field, new authors to watch, and information for collectors. Also included are numerous book reviews. So many reviews, in fact, it could be hazardous to your wallet! Mystery Scene is issued five times per year.

I foresee that these will be great mystery mags to turn the doldrums tide. See you soon with another book review.

Private Investigations – Real Backstory

Private InvestigationsWe all have favorite authors, right? Do you ever wonder what has happened in the real lives of these authors that caused them to write what they do? And in the style they do? And if any of the writers’ backstory ever shows up in their work in one form or another? Well, for lovers of mysteries, some of these questions about style and backstory are answered in Private Investigations, edited by Victoria Sackheim. These nonfiction essays dive into the thoughts and lives of twenty of today’s top mystery writers.

Jeffrey Deaver considers the multiple twists and turns that his writing career took prior to his writing mystery novels and short stories. This is exactly the type of reading he has enjoyed all his life. In other words, write what you enjoy reading. Anne Perry wants to be someone who “creates worlds and peoples them, makes events occur…and wants them to last so they can be revisited any time.”  She also writes mysteries because she enjoys them and likes the intellectual puzzle.

The mother-son team of Charles Todd became immersed in research of the First World War for their two historical mystery series. This has led them to read memoirs, newspaper accounts and firsthand histories of the war. Such extensive research and the travels to view battlefields and memorials gave them a deep understanding of the suffering war entails. Jacqueline Winspear discusses how her parents’ deep involvement in World War II affected her childhood and thus her choice to focus on war in parts of her Maisie Dobbs series.

So, if, like me, you’ve wondered about how writers’ real backstory affects their writing, read Private Investigations.

Astrophysics and Widowhood

Astrophysics and widowhoodI never thought I would enjoy a book about astrophysics and widowhood. These are subjects mostly unfamiliar to me. In The Smallest Lights in the Universe, Sara Seager dealt with both subjects intelligently.

I enjoyed being invited into Sara Seager’s life. I especially enjoyed learning about Sara’s work on exoplanets at MIT and elsewhere. Her work on the postponed Starshade project with NASA and others was also an enlightening read.

Having helped someone close through the grief process of losing a spouse, I am glad that Sara found support in The Widows of Concord. Again and again, these women helped her through the dark period of her widowhood. As Sara remarks, “Up and down, backward and forward. There is nothing remotely linear about recovery.” I would have liked to learn a little more about Jessica, Diane, and Christine. Sara hired these women to help with housework and her sons. Sara mentions that she became close friends with them, even having Jessica live awhile with her and her sons. I also wonder if Sara ever sought professional help about where she fits on the autism spectrum.

Overall, a nicely paced read about a slice in the life of a most interesting person. As I mentioned previously, astrophysics and widowhood seem like extremely divergent subjects about which to write and talk about in the same breath. Ms. Seager does it well.

I received a free copy of The Smallest Lights in the Universe in exchange for an honest review.

To read about another unique memoir that I have reviewed: Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichel.

The Smallest Lights in the Universe
Sara Seager
© 2020
Crown

Book Collecting Lust and Memoir Madness

Book LustOver the past few weeks, I fed my book collecting lust and memoir madness by buying several first editions of mysteries. Plus, I read several memoirs—most notably three by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. They use a light, upbeat style to shed light on their foray into book collecting. The Goldstones’ adventure into book lust began when Nancy tried to find a nice copy of War and Peace as a birthday present for Lawrence. As they fall more in love with book hunting, their ventures take them to Boston, New York, and Chicago. The books, Used & Rare, Slightly Chipped, and Warmly Inscribed, venture into different aspects of book collecting as the Goldstones become more attuned to the language, types of dealers, and the issues and states of the books themselves.

Book Lust

They visit dealers whose brick-and-mortar premises are hushed shrines in which  the “hot spot” wares (such as first editions of Charles Dickens or Herman Melville) cost in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. More moderately priced first-edition books of other writers at other dealers meant the Goldstones could satisfy their book lust. The Goldstones also visit dealers who sell out of their homes, barns, and outbuildings. Trips to antiquarian book fairs in Boston and New York soon follow. As does a visit to Clarence Wolf (Nancy’s book-collecting grandfather) in Chicago to get some pointers. And in later years, they visit Printers Row Book Festival in Chicago. Also on tap is a visit to a book auction at Swann Galleries (where they were outbid). Plus, a visit to Sotheby’s New York for a chance to bid on books owned by the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson.

Technology and the New Age of Book Collecting

Technology has grown apace since the writing Book Lustof the Goldstones’ memoirs, many of the dealers they frequented now offer their books online through their own websites and aggregate sites such as www.abebooks.com and www.biblio.com. (Get a chuckle from the Goldstones’ opinion of the just-burgeoning computer technology of the time sprinkled throughout their memoirs.)

I am a nascent book collector. In this age of viral pandemics, I wonder if I will have the pleasure of browsing the shelves of a used-and-rare bookstore like the Goldstones. Well, I can always have online book collecting lust and memoir madness to tide me over.

Used & Rare
Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
© 1997
Thomas Dunne Books

Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore
Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
© 1999
Thomas Dunne Books

Warmly Inscribed: The New England Forger and Other Book Tales
Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
© 2001
Thomas Dunne Books

Heirs Apparent – A journey of love and death

Heirs Apparent

Malcom Winters, alias for the initially unnamed narrator of Heirs Apparent, by Thomas J. Thorson, escorts the reader on a journey. Wandering through Greyhound terminals, always on his way to the next place, Winters introduces us to a variety of characters, human and architectural. Freddie Four-Fingers, the African American forger, from Winters’ old life. Felicity “Fyre” Stockton, Winters’ new lover, as tight-lipped about her past and present as Winters is about himself.

The list of bizarre characters grows longer once Winters settles down in a three-flat he buys in Chicago. Leo, a tenant, and ersatz chef, supposedly made an assassination attempt on Castro. Ted, or Rebecca, a cross-dressing businessman, Winters’ other tenant. V. N. “Vinn” captures the prize for normalcy in Winters’ expanding network. She’s a science professor at the local university where Winters takes a creative writing professorship for which he’s not credentialed. But even Vinn keeps secrets about her past.

Are Fyre’s secrets the reason for an assailant to fire at her and Winters when they exit a restaurant? Why does Fyre evade Winters, who follows her to the Old Post Office? Who kills Fyre and wounds Winters while there? Help tracking Fyre’s killer comes from Winters’ network of odd-fellow friends.

Leo, Ted/Rebecca and eventually Fyre are fleshed out in Heirs Apparent. Even the Old Post Office comes alive under Thorson’s light and able touch. Each character is deftly drawn and given their own, credible, story. Vinn and Winters remain something of an enigma—hopefully to be further developed in the next installment in the Malcom Winters mystery series.

Heirs Apparent
by Thomas J. Thorson
Austin Macauley Publishers
© 2020

Jamie Quinn – Legal Wrangling

Jamie Quinn - Legal WranglingIt seems I’m reading quite a few mysteries involving lawyers recently. My most recent read is Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection, Box Set 1-3 by Barbara Venkataraman.  Jamie Quinn, an attorney dealing in family law, hits some rough spots of legal wrangling in these adventures.

In the three novellas in this collection, Quinn is pulled out of her comfort zone by cases dealing with sudden death and criminal law. Appearances are deceiving in “Death by Didgeridoo.” Quinn’s cousin Adam, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, is accused of murdering his music teacher. Quinn knows he didn’t do it, but can she catch the real killer? In “The Case of the Killer Divorce,” Quinn’s client is in the midst of a messy, bitter divorce. Did the client end up killing her husband? “Peril in the Park” reunites Quinn with a long-lost love. But can she save him from a stalker that seems intent on killing?

The characterization of Jamie Quinn and her friends, Grace (another lawyer) and Duke (a P.I.) are spot on. The pacing is good for “Death by Didgeridoo” is great but slows down some in the other two stories. In “The Case of the Killer Divorce,” much ado is made about two legs of the love triangle, leaving one to wonder why. What about the other leg—the male buddy/lover? However, I enjoyed these enough to want to read the rest of the series. Jamie Quinn – legal wrangling that’s entertaining.

I received a free copy of Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection, Box Set 1-3 from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection, Box Set 1-3
by Barbara Venkataraman
© 2013-2015

Mystery along the Thames

Mystery on the ThamesGreat mystery along the Thames. Set in mid-17th century England, Rags of Time, by Michael Ward, is a marvelous adventure. Steady, quick pacing and skillful characterization put their arms around your shoulders and pull you headlong into the chaos and confusion surrounding Thomas Tallent. Even the minor characters are interesting and endearing.

Thomas Tallent, a spice merchant, just back from India, is thrust into the midst of uncertainty. In addition to the beginnings of civil unrest fomenting in London, a rich wool merchant has died under mysterious circumstances. Within months, the merchant’s partner is also dead. Likewise a destitute young teenager caught inside Tallent’s warehouse. Whispers among the nouveau riche merchant class point to Tallent as the perpetrator. Why would Tallent kill these men? What would he gain? Who can he trust to help clear his name? Edmund Dalloway, his oldest friend? Or Elizabeth Seymour, his new love interest? Is there anyone he can trust besides his parents? They can only do so much. Tallent sets out to prove his innocence, but that doesn’t stop the gossip mill and one of the not-too-bright officials. What’s to be done? Can help come from Robert Petty, one of the investigators?

This mystery on the Thames is a spectacular read. According to an interview Mr. Ward did with Esther Rabbit (see her blog), there will be at least four more books featuring Thomas Tallent during the English Civil War period. Looking for more from this author. 

I received a free copy of Rags of Time in exchange for a truthful review.

Rags of Time
by Michael Ward
Barnaby Press
© 2019

Heartbreak and Love Gone Wrong

Heartbreak and love gone wrong

Shana Marlayna Chow’s second book of poetry, I Tried to Write Love Poems, is a moving tribute to love and strength. This second book is as solid as her first, Love Gone Savage. (See my review here.) The dedication, “to anyone going through the unrelenting pain of a heart break,” epitomizes a vision of heartbreak and love gone wrong.

Chow extends hope to anyone who “went back to him so fragile” or “didn’t know where to turn.” Strength exudes from lines such as “she pre-planned her escape/and never looked back.” There is a sense that the woman in the poems is split in two. She’s on the inside longing to get free.  Or, she’s on the outside looking in at her life before and wondering about how she had accepted the berating and manipulation. “He was manipulation at its finest.”

Occasionally, the poems read more like aphorisms from a complacent counselor than poems that swim amid love and pain. For example,

If you try to understand why someone hurt you,
instead of reacting to the hurt,
you will be healed quicker,
than carrying the anger
in your soul.

Heartbreak and Love Gone Wrong

In the end, Chow’s poems focus on how people must find love, happiness and acceptance within themselves. “Control your happiness by finding it within yourself first.” Attentiveness, making peace with the past, fearlessness, confidence—these things lead through the heartbreak to the sunshine.

We all have both tornadoes and sunshine in all of us.
Surround yourself with those that bring out your sunshine.