Sunday, July 7, 2013

Channeling my Inner Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney, best remembered as the cranky commentator at the close of the CBS tele-magazine Sixty Minutes for so many years, came to mind not long ago when I was pursuing the prosaic task of folding laundry towels. His half-whine, half bluster voice echoed in my head, and what follows is an homage, of sorts, to his memory.

There are too many towels in the world. Just the other day I happened to find myself in a department store and while looking for a pair of sensible shoes wandered through the linens department. Did you know there are finger tip towels? They're little scraps of cotton that are slightly larger than a wash cloth and not as big a hand towel. Do we really need finger tip towels. After all, aren't your fingers part of your hand? Mine are. Then there were bath towels and bath sheets. What are bath sheets? Who sleeps in the bathtub unless they are in trouble with their spouse and why do they need special sheets? They aren't even fitted.

And what about kitchen towels? They often come with chickens or ducks painted on them, or maybe oregano and turnips. These seem to be mostly for people to look at, hanging nicely from the oven handle because most of them don't do the one thing they should do, and that is dry things off well. They sort of move the water around without really absorbing anything. But they look nice hanging on the stove. If you like painted chickens. What we really use to clean up spills are paper towels, which may also have pastel chickens or turnips. The logic of this escapes me. How does it make sense to use paper made from trees that take fifty years or more to grow to a useful size to clean up a coffee spill when we could use cotton, which take one growing season on a farm to make kitchen towels that don't absorb much?

Maybe we could use the worn out towels from the bathroom in the kitchen. They still absorb moisture, and since they are around the house anyway, we could quit using paper towels. We could call them rags and wash them in hot soapy water with bleach to get them really clean and safe to use. Who knows, maybe a bleach stain will look like a chicken. Or a turnip.

Monday, July 1, 2013

1000 Words About Other Writers Words

Writers like to hang out with other writers. Rest assured, we watch people, study their mannerisms and speech patterns, the way they walk or how they hold their fork or cell phone. But that is research, mostly. When we gather to hang out, we commiserate with one another about the difficulty of the process, the frustrations of a constantly changing marketplace, and the shifting sands of creating a ‘platform’ from which we shill our work. But we also share the euphoria when someone just kills (in a good way) ten thousand words in a marathon session of writing where gold flows from the fingertips in such an intense fashion that nothing else exists except the story (Here’s a hint to aspiring writers: If you write every day, sessions like the one just described happen a lot more often.).
Besides your mom (who has to), or your spouse, if applicable, (who sacrificed a lot by leaving you alone-or kicking you in the butt-when you needed it), no one is more likely to stand on a chair and cheer for you when succeed than your friends in the writing community. It gives all of us hope. Hope for those who haven’t broken through that we can, and hope for those that have, that they can keep doing so with better results each time.
With all of the above in mind, here are three reviews of books written by writing colleagues ranging from a self-described ‘almost famous’ author to two who are getting legs in what promise to be nice careers.

William Dietrich, a NY Times bestselling and Pulitzer Prize winning author has written twelve novels and five book-length non-fiction titles in his career. The Barbed Crown is the sixth in the series starring the roguish American ex-pat Ethan Gage. A devotee of Benjamin Franklin, he is a scoundrel, a gambler, an adventurer and pseudo-savant who finds himself sometimes being the grease and sometimes the grit between England and France during the Napoleonic Wars. In this highly entertaining book Gage finds himself slipping past the English naval blockade of France in a tiny boat on storm tossed seas with bullets and cannon balls whizzing by his head. He is doing so to seek out and kill Napoleon himself, whom, in a roundabout way, he has blamed  for the death of his beloved wife, the exotic Astiza. Failing that, then surely he can abort the general's coronation!
Complications ensue, as they must, and poor Ethan, who never seems to catch a break, still manages to survive by his wits, luck, and marksmanship. This book (and all in the series) are like a scrumptious bowl of nourishing cereal, chock full of scrupulously researched and fascinating history baked into a story that snaps with humor and crisp dialogue, crackles with page turning actions and pops off the pages with unlikely but entirely plausible ways the fictional Ethan Gage might have ended up near the heart of the biggest players of the era while everyone seems to be playing one side against the other. This book is a great stand-alone read and I highly recommend it for your reading list. But for maximum fun invest in starting at the beginning (after all, with the age of the internet nothing is really ever out of print) and read them all. You can thank me later.

By William Dietrich ©2013
HarperCollins       ISBN 978-0-06-219407-7

Now let’s leap forward a century and half a world away from Napoleon to the Age of Electricity, shall we?

Capacity for Murder is the third installment of the Professor Bradshaw Mysteries by Bernadette Pajer. An electrical engineering professor at the University of Washington in frontier Seattle, Bradshaw is introduced in The Spark of Death enmeshed in defending himself against a charge of murder in the electrocution death of a flamboyant colleague. In an era of titanic egos and society-changing advances in technology, his effort to prove his innocence eventually lead to a consulting detective role in Fatal Induction. This hobby of a sort expands in Capacity for Murder, and the sometimes absent-minded, occasionally OCD and always proper professor is summoned to the distant ocean beaches of western Washington. Beyond the reach of railroads or even much in the way of roads, his task is to unravel the cause of the accidental frying of a patient at a health spa sanatorium. Or is it an accident?
Trying to balance a romance not acted upon, his engineering students along for the journey and a cast of characters as rich as they are quirky, Bradshaw goes from being the central investigator to a dismissed "we'll call if we need you" persona non grata. But when big city law enforcement arrives he perseveres when he sees the investigation headed in the wrong direction and nearly gets himself killed in the process.
This is an homage to the ‘closed room’ style mystery-as much a how dunnit as a who dunnit-in the grand tradition of Agatha Christie. Having been reviewed and receiving the Washington Academy of Sciences seal for scientific accuracy, this book and the series are just plain great fun to read, without a single static moment. Chock full of early Seattle, science and sparks in the age of Tesla. Read the series if you can, or Capacity for Murder if you can’t. You’ll get a charge out of them! (Ohm dear, I have punned. Resistance is futile.)

By Bernadette Pajer    ©2013
Poison PenPress    ISBN  9781464201288

Occasionally I have the excellent good fortune to review a writer early in what promises to be a gifted career. Such a writer is Laurie Frankel. Goodbye for Now is a wholly original and yet somehow inevitable novel that charts the intersection of life, love, death and technology. If you could talk to your DOL (departed loved one) one more time, would you? How about ten times? Perhaps you could with a genius programmer, his beloved girlfriend (found with just the right programming algorithm in a dating service), and her unexpectedly and suddenly deceased grandmother at the center of this wondrous book.
At times funny and heartwarming, at times heart wrenching and through some mystical alchemy sometimes both at the same time, Goodbye for Now is a polished gem of prose really deserving a wide audience. Sometime in the future, maybe, just maybe, a long-departed great-great-grandpa will be giving fly fishing tips to generations he never lived to see because Laurie Frankel wrote this novel. For me this was one of those standing on my chair cheering reads that instantly made my must-read list for this year.

By LaurieFrankel  ©2012
Anchor Books   ISBN 978-0-307-95127-4

Disclaimer notice. Each of these books was purchased at full retail price before review and while the authors are known to me, if the work wasn't good, it wouldn't be on my blog.