Tag Archives: debut author

Mercedes Bends

tollling of MB amazon

The Tolling of Mercedes Bell: A Novel by Jennifer Dwight (She Writes Press, $18.95, 416 pages)

This tale that spans 10 years is crafted to fit the locale, the San Francisco Bay Area/East Bay, the era, the 1980s to the 90s, and the human foibles of a rich array of characters carefully structured and revealed by debut author Jennifer Dwight. More a novel than a mystery, The Tolling of Mercedes Bell lulls readers by the rhythmic pace that is the unfolding of a new life for recently-widowed Mercedes and her seven-year-old daughter, Germaine.

Mercedes is an emotionally fragile, yet stubborn quasi paralegal. Her drunkard husband’s single car crash has left her penniless and in desperate need of a job. She and Germaine leave a rental house in Piedmont to settle into a rental cottage in an undesirable part of Oakland. Author Dwight has obviously frequented the areas she describes in minute detail. Coincidentally, my wife lived just blocks from the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland where Mercedes buys her newspapers and she vouched for the authenticity of the writing.

tolling of mercedes bell

The biggest shift from the minor key of the musical score, yes this is movie material, comes when Mercedes has realized her goal of steady employment at a law firm. Given the era, the notion of a tall, handsome single lawyer becoming infatuated with her is no surprise; however, what follows is eye opening to say the least!

Long-time residents of northern California may have an advantage in figuring out the conclusion.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on May 3, 2016.

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Secret

Anna Blanc

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc: A Mystery by Jennifer Kincheloe (Seventh Street Books, $15.95, 367 pages)

Sweat beaded on Wolf’s brow as he led Anna among the desks to meet the man in charge. His lips stretched in a tense smile, his skin a little paler than before he had hired Anna. “Captain Wells, may I present Mrs. Anna Holmes, our lovely new assistant matron. She types, speaks Spanish, but most importantly, she’s nervy. I say that’s a vital quality for a matron who will be venturing into unsavory territory.”

Fans of the history of southern California will find this remarkably charming mystery an accurate period piece. The opening chapters of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc offer a well-described glimpse into the life of Miss Blanc. Anna is the only daughter of Christopher Blanc, a wealthy banker and business leader in Los Angeles. Mr. Blanc treats Anna as though she were an asset/possession. Who she marries means more to him than does her happiness.

The time is 1907 and the locales for the tale include Riverside and both the wealthy and shabby areas of Los Angeles. The action begins when Anna has eloped from her father’s Bunker Hill mansion with Louis Taylor. They hop onto a train bound for the historic Mission Inn located in downtown Riverside where they plan to marry in the chapel. Due to the strictness of her Catholic upbringing, Anna has never actually touched a man without wearing gloves. The exception is her father. As she and Louis sit in a third class rail car rolling toward their destination, the action speeds up and one thing leads to another.

Jennifer Kincheloe

Author Jennifer Kincheloe infuses Anna with equal measures of spunk and cleverness. Our heroine longs to be a lady detective just like the ones she reads about in the contraband books she hides by using the covers of books that meet her father’s approval. Fate throws Anna into a controversial encounter with the Los Angeles Police Department. This encounter leads to the opportunity she has been dreaming about. Trickery and abundant guts are all Anna needs to launch her career!

Anna-Blanc-317x202

The novel is way too well written to give away any more than the barest of plot details. It’s rare that a thrilling mystery is also a laugh out loud read.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“Fast, funny, and fabulous. You’re going to love this book!” Lori Rader-Day, author of Pretty Little Things. “A madcap frolic through turn-of-the-century Los Angeles, Jennifer Kincheloe’s debut mystery is an addictive read.” James W. Ziskin, author of Stone Cold Dead.

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Helter Skelter

“Mental wounds not healing/Who and what’s to blame/I’m goin’ off the rails of the crazy train.” Ozzy Osbourne (“Crazy Train”)

Absence of Mercy (nook book)

The Absence of Mercy: A Novel by John Burley (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 352 pages)

A high school boy is murdered, and a high school girl barely escapes the same fate. A bedroom community is rocked, and the Medical Examiner’s family becomes embroiled in the controversy. This is the essence of John Burley’s debut novel, The Absence of Mercy. Burley himself is an emergency medicine physician, and those in that profession can attest to the accuracy or lack thereof in his details. For the typical reader who wants to enjoy a good suspense thriller, one could do far worse than Absence. In fact, having reviewed many books of this genre, I am hard pressed to recall any contemporary suspense thriller that I have enjoyed more.

Absence of Mercy back cover

In addition to an intuitive sense of pacing that is well refined for a first-time author, the reader does not have to suspend reality or ignore sensationalism to appreciate the book. I suppose the cross border escape attempt pushes the envelope a bit, but I’ll give Burley a pass on this, as the rest of the story is rock solid (or “spot on” as the English say). The events chronicled in this book could have happened today, anywhere. A mother’s love, professional integrity, trust, despair and forgiveness permeate the story effortlessly. Nothing here seems forced.

And, then, there is insanity. Yes, mental illness is real, and many good people effectively manage various afflictions throughout an entire lifetime. But there is also crazy and evil in this world. As humans we seem compelled to attempt to explain, make sense of, or feel the need to control everything around us. Unfortunately, this is not possible, as we tend to learn all too directly. As to true crazy and pure evil, there is no remedy, no cure.

In Absence, there is also no mercy.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is an education administrator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Life in the Fast Lane

Indiscretion: A Novel by Charles Dubow (William Morrow, $24.99, 400 pages)

Indescretion 3D

First-time author Charles Dubow has captured the sophisticated conversation style often heard in wealthy and privileged social circles such as the one in East Hampton, New York during the summer season. Dubow is careful in avoiding parody, smoothing the exchanges to eliminate the stilted manner so often used in books featuring this sort of crowd — think The Great Gatsby.

Although the setting is East Hampton and the time is present day; the story could easily be set in the 1940s. This reviewer experienced feelings reminiscent of the those felt while watching my all-time favorite movie, Laura; however, Indiscretion is not a mystery. Moreover, as the story unfolds it takes a back seat to the interactions of the characters and the locale. Perhaps it is a morality play.

Not everyone will pick up on the specificity that Dubow uses to pinpoint the sort of people his characters are. The main characters are fraternity brothers having joined Delta Kappa Epsilon, Deke for short. This reviewer sought out a picture of the author and it came as no surprise that he bears a strong resemblance to the Dekes I knew at Cal. He may even wear penny loafters without sox as was the Deke-preferred style back in the late 1960s.

The main narrator of this book, Walter Gervais, is an independently-wealthy attorney who owns a summer cottage next door to a National Book Award winner and his wife. The author, Harry Winslow, and his wife, Madeline, are the perfect couple married for many years. They have one son, Johnny, who completes their family. Walter, Harry and Madeline are in their 40s. Walter has always loved Maddy (short for Madeline) and he contents himself with being an honorary member of their family.

As the title suggest, there is an indiscretion that pulls apart the perfect couple. A mysterious, self-possessed and beautiful young 26-year-old woman named Claire insinuates herself into their world. Claire is the current interest of a shallow and overbearing man. As fate would have it, Claire joins Clive for a weekend in the Hamptons where they are guests at a dinner hosted by Harry and Maddy. Claire soaks in the cozy and charming atmosphere in their home. It is a stark contrast to Clive’s hard-edged modern house.

The narrator shifts among Walter, Maddy and Claire are well executed and add depth to the telling. As each addresses the reader, the tale takes on complexity. Dubow is an excellent writer and, hopefully, this first novel will be followed by others.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Indiscretion… marks the debut of a remarkably gifted writer and story teller whose unique voice bears all the hallmarks of an exciting, new literary talent.” Amazon

Indiscretion was released on July 9, 2013.

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If I Could Turn Back Time

The Repeat Year: A Novel by Andrea Lochen (Berkley, $16.00, 400 pages)

Some things are better the second time around…

“You have to pay to get out of going through these things twice…” Bob Dylan

This is a book that I wanted to like more than I did. Andrea Lochen came up with a great premise for a debut novel. A young nurse named Olive experiences a terrible year in 2011, when her numerous losses include a breakup with her longtime boyfriend. On New Year’s Day she suddenly wakes up to find that it is not 2012, but rather 2011. It’s a repeat year. (A year that she will repeat with full memories of what happened the first time around.) Will she use it to rectify her personal mistakes and save her ragged personal relationships?

Unfortunately, Lochen fails to make the most of her storyline. The tale begins in a very engaging fashion, but about a third or half-way through it becomes difficult to read. The dialogue seems less true to life, and some happenings made it harder to suspend disbelief. For example, instead of allowing Olive to be the only “repeater,” another character is brought into the story — someone who happens to be a friend of Olive’s mother — who also relives years in her life. That seems like a bridge too far.

The topic of time travel is a fascinating one. Since Olive is a nurse, she could have used her knowledge of the patients that had been treated in the hospital during 2011 to prevent medical errors and conceivably save lives. Lochen uses this notion just once, and by page 200 of 400 the story becomes a pretty standard romance novel.

Clearly, Lochen has some skills as a writer, so let’s hope she herself gets it right the second time around. Perhaps she’ll write The Repeat Novel.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Repeat Year was released on May 7, 2013.

The Repeat Year (Amazon)

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The Promise of Stardust

Promise of Stardust (sharp)
The Promise of Stardust: A Novel
by debut author Priscille Sibley will be released by William Morrow on Tuesday, February 5, 2013. Here is the publisher’s synopsis of the story:

Matt Beaulieu was two years old the first time he held Ellie McClure in his arms, seventeen when he first kissed her under a sky filled with shooting stars, and thirty-three when he convinced her to marry him. Now in their late thirties, the deeply devoted couple has everything – except the baby they’ve always wanted.

When an accident leaves Elle brain-dead, Matt is devastated. Though he cannot bear the thought of life without her, he knows Elle was afraid of only one thing – a slow death. And so Matt resolves to take her off life support. But he changes his mind when he finds out that Elle is pregnant.

While there are no certainties, the baby might survive if Elle remains on life support. Matt’s mother, Linney, disagrees with his decision. She loves Elle, too, and insists that Elle would never want to be kept alive on machines. Linney is prepared to fight her son in court – armed with Elle’s living will.

Divided by the love they share, Matt and Linney will be pitted against each other, fighting for what they believe is right, and what they think Elle would have wanted, resulting in a controversial legal battle that will ultimately go beyond one family… and one single life.

Click on this link to read the first 62 pages of The Promise of Stardust:

http://priscillesibley.com/the-promise-of-stardust-excerpt/

(Place your mouse arrow near the book cover image in order to call up the page-turning arrows.)

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An Interview

Months ago, a few book bloggers (including yours truly) were interviewed by a popular writer for an online article.   For various and sundry reasons, the article never appeared so we are posting it here with the four original questions that were posed and one bonus question.book reviews

Why do you blog?   Is it for free books or just the love of reading?

I see it as performing a public service.   My reviewers and I take the time to read books and make a judgment as to whether this is worth the average reader/consumer’s money and – even more importantly – time.   These days both are seen as precious commodities.   We either recommend a book or refrain from doing so.

If you agree to be in a book tour and you  hate the book, do you review it anyway?

When this happened to me, I notified the tour leader that I was withdrawing; I had no desire to ruin someone else’s party (a debut party for the first-time author).   But I also told the tour leader that I would be writing and posting my own honest and less-than-favorable review at a slightly later date.

By the way, on Joseph’s Reviews I’ve periodically posted multiple reviews of the same book.   In one recent case, three of us reviewed the same novel.   I did not recommend buying and reading it, but two other reviewers did.   None of us claims perfect knowledge, but we try to clarify for the review reader how and why we each arrived at our own position.   Sometimes the difference in perspective can be due to different life experiences, or even recent positive or negative events in our lives.

Why do you think you’re “qualified” to review books?

I have a degree in Communication Arts, wrote music and entertainment reviews in college, and earned a law degree from a major university.   I’ve also taught, done significant writing and editing as a government Public Information Officer, and done some pre-publication work for a publisher based in England.   However, I think the key prerequisite for being a reviewer is the ability to be completely honest about one’s views.   It is just one opinion, but it should always be a frank and honest one.

Does you blog have anything to do with your own writing (i.e., did you start it because you were writing a novel or are the two totally unrelated)?

Because I enjoyed writing reviews at a period when (in the words of The Who), “I wore a younger man’s clothes,” I elected to do something similar with my adult leisure time.   I was an avid reader of music reviews when I was in college, and I often loved the critics whose opinions I most often disagreed with – those who didn’t necessarily sway my own views but whose consistency and tenacity I admired.

Writing an engaging, and hopefully, convincing book review is a bit like trying to fashion a proper legal argument.

If you had the power to do so, what one thing would you change about the book publishing industry?

A number of years ago, when you purchased a blank music recording cassette, part of the purchase price went to reimburse artists for lost royalties.   The same is true today when you buy a blank CD-R.   I would like to see a small part of the purchase price for each book – hardback, paperback or e-book – used to fund a central editing clearinghouse.   In my fantasy, all books would receive a final read and edit prior to publication.   The clearinghouse would have to issue a stamp of approval before the publisher could actually release the book.   (Crazy people and speed readers such as I would likely work at the literal publisher’s clearinghouse.)

There’s nothing more frustrating than picking up a “finished” book and finding it loaded with typos and simple mistakes that should have been corrected in the editing and fact-checking processes.   For example, my wife was just reading a novel that placed the UCLA campus in Brentwood – which is likely a major surprise to the tens of thousands of students on the grounds at Westwood!

ucla-campusJoseph Arellano

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