Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Calico Joe by John Grisham

Baseball 1973, the National League won the All Star game. Teams tweaked their rosters for their run to the World Series. In John Grisham’s Calico Joe, the Cubs gave Joe Castle of Calico, Arkansas the nod.

Calico Joe came with a pedigree. His grandfather played for the Cleveland Indians, his father played for the Pirates. His brothers played for the Senators and the Phillies. The Cubs felt good about bringing him up. Joe rewrote the record books, and Cub fans visualized the World Series. Baseball pandemonium ruled the North Side of Chicago.

Eleven-year-old Paul Tracey became enamored with Joe. He listened to as many games as possible. He cut out articles from the paper and glued them in his scrapbook. Only one problem, Paul’s dad, Warren pitched for the Mets.

Warren was hard and Warren was mean. He wasn’t a good father. Warren ends Calico Joe’s career with a bean ball, a 98-mile per hour pitch to the head. Bam! Knocks the guy out, right in the eye.

In Calico Joe, Grisham writes a story depicting a slice of Americana. He gives us baseball at a point in time when baseball meant more than just money. Entwined in the story of baseball, we get family emotions, child abuse, adultery, cancer and death. We also get reconciliation and forgiveness.

Warren Tracey suffers with pancreatic cancer, one of the most painful and deadly forms. No one feels sorry for him. Grisham does a good job of vilifying the man, but maybe by the end you’ll feel differently. Maybe.

Paul tries to over come their differences, the neglect, the abuse, and the KOB (knock out by baseball). Paul wants to make things right, for Joe and baseball, not his dad. In the process, may be he does help his dad. You’re the reader, you decide.

Baseball books in general contain lots of statistics and trivia. This one has some trivia, but doesn’t overdo it. In the author’s note, Grisham admits that some of the facts have been changed to make the story flow better. Baseball aficionados will catch him on these. However, the basics are correct. It is Willie Mays last season. The Mets do make the World Series, and the Cubs are trying to catch them.

Much like baseball, this book pulls the emotional strings. At times you’re not sure if you love or hate the characters. Except for Joe, he’s perfect. It contains and revolves around baseball, but you don’t have to know baseball to enjoy Calico Joe.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Steampunk, Vampires, and Cherie Priest

So far I’ve read two books by Cherie Priest, and I’ve liked them both. Her distinctive literary voice resonates well with my tastes. She tends towards the strong female main characters in the supernatural/steampunk realm of fiction. She does it with out bashing men and the male readers. Her male characters are almost equally strong in their own way. In addition to here great characters, she keeps the text active, and doesn’t rely on a lot of narrative to tell the story.

Priest published her first book, Four and Twenty Blackbirds in 2005. It covers ghosts and magic. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it is on my list. I will let you know how it turns out.

She hit the big time with her steampunk novel, Boneshaker in 2009, part of the Clockwork Century group. This was my first read of hers, and I lost a night of sleep. I picked it up and read it straight through. This was also my first encounter with steampunk. I liked the book and the concept. Technology drives steampunk literature, and provides lots of alternative equipment. Boneshaker provides the reader with good characters, a decent story containing lots of action and tension. In addition to steampunk, it is an alternative history of Seattle during the Civil War. The three other books in the Clockwork Century group include Ganymede, Dreadnought and Clementine.

Priest’s latest creations Bloodshot and Hellbent give the reader a female vampire recovery specialist, Raylene Pendle. She helps people find lost or stolen items. Okay, so she steals things. She is also in the process of collecting a band of misfits to help her with her special collections.

I recently finished Hellbent. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked it. Priest does a major switch from Boneshaker. Where Boneshaker treats the reader to a suspenseful quest and fairly serious story, Hellbent leans towards slapstick. I had to get my mind around the change, but once I did Hellbent really worked for me.

In Hellbent Priest created a cross between Robert Aspen’s Myth Inc fantasy series and John D. MacDonald’s, Travis McGee, salvage expert/recovery specialist. She incorporates Aspen’s humor and supernatural characters and McGee’s toughness and personality. McGee’s exploits often bordered on the unbelievable side. He carried so much extra metal from bullets and broken bones, he’d never be able to get through a TSA checkpoint. Raylene on the other hand is a vampire. She heals quickly no doctors needed. However, unlike Travis, you won’t find her basking in the sun on the deck of a boat in the Florida Keys.

Hellbent and Boneshaker held my attention and interest. They have great characters and a good story. Priest keeps the stories believable and stays true to the genre in which she is working. She has several non-related series going with three to four books each. I think, I’ll try Four and Twenty Blackbirds Next.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Haunted Guesthouse Mystery

A cozy ghost story sounds a bit like an oxymoron doesn’t it, but that is exactly what you get with E.J. Copperman’s “A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery” series. So far, readers can choose from two books, Night of the Living Deed and An Uninvited Ghost. A third story, Old Haunts will be released mid-February.

Cooperman is a pseudonym for an established author, but they are being tight lipped about whom he or she might be. On the other hand this means you are not taking a chance on a new author. This is not to say new authors are bad writers. I read lots of good new authors, but some folks are nervous about spending money on an unknown author. Don’t worry, I bought both these books, and I am very happy with them.

Supposedly, the author is from the Jersey Shore, and I believe it. The books have the right personality for the location. Most people judge Jersey based on Newark or the television program; big mistake. That is only a small microcosm of the state.

In Night of the Living Deed, recently divorced Alison Kirby and her daughter, Melissa purchase a large place and want to make it into a guesthouse. The previous resident, unhappy with the redecorating, smacks Alison with a paint can. Much to her consternation, Alison discovers she can now see and talk to ghosts – let the fun begin. The guesthouse contains two specters, the previous owner, Maxie, and the detective she hired, Paul. They were murdered, and need Alison’s help to find the killer.

The Guesthouse or the Ghosthouse received so much publicity during the first caper that Alison receives a number of requests from the living and the dead in An Uninvited Ghost. The living want to stay in a haunted house, and the dead want her to solve mysteries. The first one pays; the second one doesn’t. Alison must balance the two, but when one of her visitors dies, the two demands become one. For a bonus feature, a reality TV show will also be using the house. The mix creates some funny, yet deadly interactions.

Copperman plays loose with the ghost genre creating things as the story goes along, and breaking from accepted ghost theory. This may offend the traditionalist, who may consider Maxie and Paul poltergeists rather than ghosts since they can move objects. Cooperman also breaks from the tradition by making these stories more humor than horror. But it’s Copperman’s story, and ghost stories have a wide margin for writer’s prerogative. The stories work. They entertain, and I will be ready for Old Haunts in a couple of weeks.