Monday, May 29, 2017

The Chalk Garden by Elly Griffiths

I am completely and irreversibly in love with the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths/Domenica de Rosa.  Tomorrow is release day for #9 in this brilliant series.  I should have my review up with this description of the book, but, I wrote it several months ago and somehow have managed to lose it on my computer.  I did have a virus that wiped out loads of pictures and documents, and I fear that is what happened.  Unfortunately, I didn't check until yesterday, when I was going to put the review on my blog for today.  Since I am leaving for vacation in a few hours, I will have to redo the review next weekend when I return.  So, for now, here is the cover description for The Chalk Pit.  It is an amazing read, and even though I received an ARC, I will be buying the American and British hardcovers, because I enjoyed this book so much, as I have all the previous Ruth Galloway books.

In the ninth Ruth Galloway mystery, Ruth and Nelson investigate a string of murders and disappearances deep within the abandoned tunnels hidden far beneath the streets of Norwich.

Norwich is riddled with old chalk-mining tunnels, but no one’s sure exactly how many. When Ruth is called in to investigate a set of human remains found in one of them, she notices the bones are almost translucent, a sign they were boiled soon after death. Once more, she finds herself at the helm of a murder investigation.

Meanwhile, DCI Nelson is hunting for a missing homeless woman, Barbara, who he hears has gone “underground.” Could she have disappeared into the labyrinth? And if so, is she connected to the body Ruth found? As Ruth, Nelson, and the rest of their team investigate the tunnels, they hear rumors of secret societies, cannibalism, and ritual killings. When a dead body is found with a map that appears to be of The Underground, they realize their quest to find the killer has only just begun—and that there may be more bodies underfoot.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Slipping into Summer with Amazing Reading: Part Two

If Part One of Slipping into Summer with Amazing Reading hasn't overwhelmed you with summer selections, here is Part Two, new releases in June, and June comes in sizzling.  Again, if you click on the book cover, it will present a link to take you to a description of the book on the Barnes and Noble Web site.  These books won't have a sample for you to read, as only books already out have those.  And, again, I'm not endorsing that site for purchasing the book.  Independent book sellers, other online sites, and your library are all great choices of where to snag a copy of a great read.

Slipping into Summer with Amazing Reading: Part One

Spring has been one great book after another for me, reading heaven indeed.  Now, summer is edging in with a line-up of new releases that promises to keep up the pace.  If you hear someone say that they don't know what to read or have nothing to read, after you finishing staring at them with astonishment, you might direct them to some of these un-put-downable titles that are already out.  Well, The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths will be out next Tuesday, and you will want to go ahead and order it, trust me. First are some titles of books that came out in April and May to immediately acquire for your summer reading.  I'll do a second post on ones out in June.  Click on the book's cover for a link to a description of it on Barnes and Noble, plus a sample of the book you can click on.  That doesn't mean you have to buy it there, but it's an option.  Independent bookstores are way too enjoyable to visit to limit yourself to online, and your local library is always waiting to serve you, too.   So, here are some titles that, if you haven't already read them this spring, you might want to include in your summer reading.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

City of Angels by Kristi Belcamino: Reading Room Review

   Do you hear your heart beating?
   Can you feel the streets reaching?
   Has your soul gone screeching into the whirling abyss?
   Growing stronger with the punches,
   Mind makes consequential crunches.
   And, the city rewards you with its welcoming kiss.

The City of Angels by Kristi Belcamino is inspiring.  I am no poet, but this new novel by Belcamino led me to create a poem, trying to express a bit of what the book felt like.  It is the author’s first young adult novel, after starting her fiction writing career with the successful Gabriella Giovanni crime series.  I am such a fan of the Giovanni series that there was some trepidation about the new direction of a YA book.  Of course, I should have trusted Kristi implicitly, as everything she’s written, fiction or non-fiction, has been exceptional. 

This novel takes off at a run, literally.  Nikki Black is a seventeen-year-old Midwest girl who follows a fast-talking guy to Los Angles with the lure of becoming a photography intern through his movie connections.  With her mother dead and her father blaming Nikki for that death, the choice to accompany her fast-track boyfriend Chad to L.A. was an easy one for Nikki.  The action starts with Nikki escaping from Chad at a director’s house after she discovers her guide to a better life wants her for a porn movie.  After kicking Chad where he deserves it, Nikki must make a run for it in the ensuing chaos.  Along the way, she picks up a twelve-year-old runaway named Rain, who has been held captive at the director’s house.  The girls in constant motion finally end up in downtown L.A. at the American Hotel, a collection of low-rent rooms over a punk-rock bar named Al’s, and Nikki finds a waitress job to pay the rent.

It's 1992 in the city of angels, and the trial of the policemen who beat Rodney King senseless is stirring up discontent that threatens any haven Nikki is seeking.  Fortunately, she is rooming on a floor with a multi-cultural mix of young people who are both creative and caring, but even those connections can be fragile for someone who doesn’t come to trust easily.  But, when Rain disappears, first into an addiction with heroin and then into an ominous black car.  Nikki is determined to find the girl, who she has quickly come to feel responsible for, fighting against powerful forces that are just as determined to stop another rescue.   Nikki must either choose to trust and let her floor-mates help, or give up on saving the young girl.  It is a fast-paced, high action race which had me biting my bottom lip more than once.  Belcamino knows how to write action, fraught with suspense and tension enough to keep the pages turning quickly. 

Kristi Belcamino’s writing checks so many boxes that must be right to result in an engaging novel, a novel that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.  The characters, beginning with the main character of Nikki, to her floor-mates, to the homeless character of Frank are developed with careful attention to detail.  Dress, hairstyle, actions, dialogue, hobbies, dreams of these characters all work cleverly to reveal them and bring them to life.  Descriptions of the lay of the land create a visual that ensconces the reader into the story, walking down the streets of a troubled city, with shadows lurking over the shoulder or running on the beach with terror choking you.  The plot is always under calculated control and moving forward with seamless transitions.  Nikki’s backstory is included in well-paced intervals that don’t distract from the current action.    

City of Angels packs a punch with history and issues that will appeal to readers well beyond the teen audience.  Those who remember the L.A. Riots, the early days of HIV, and punk rock bands like Nirvana will have an appreciation of their importance.  Issues such as child pornography, sex trafficking, homelessness, religious control, and racial profiling are ones that our country has still not dealt with effectively.  And, yet, at the heart of this novel is a seventeen-year-old girl who shows what courage, resilience, and resolve the young can hold.   Kristi Belcamino is an author who can weave all of those issues and that history and that heart into a compelling story that will take your breath away.     

I received an advanced copy of City of Angels in exchange only for an honest review.  My review reflects my sincere experience in reading an outstanding book. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Never Forget: A Personal Essay by Kristi Belcamino

Note: The following is a piece written by author Kristi Belcamino in conjunction with her release this Tuesday, May 9th, of her novel City of Angels.  It is a biographical essay, and I'm sure those of you who have already read her spectacular new novel will recognize some marked similarities between Kristi's reminisces and Nikki's story.  And now, you know just what a special story City of Angels is and why it had to be told. 

Don’t Ever Forget
   By Kristi Belcamino

Most of the homeless people were still asleep, heads propped on folded cardboard boxes pushed up against buildings, bodies swaddled in blankets or rags.

The shadowy streets were chilly, not yet touched by the sun to the west. The downtown Los Angeles streets would remain gray for hours until mid-day when long shafts of sunlight would penetrate the skyscraper fortress.

I walked and walked. My waitressing shift at Little Pedro’s on the border of East L.A. didn’t start until three.  I would have to steel myself to cart beer and sizzling tortilla chips to drunken off-duty LAPD officers. Or put up with finger-snapping businessmen. The only ones who treated me with any respect were the East L.A. gangbangers – none over sixteen, dressed identically in black slacks, pressed white tee-shirts, and dripping diamonds. Served free refills on their sodas by order of the manager.

Far to the north, some eight hours away, I had grown up in a secluded pine-tree filled town overlooking the fertile California valley. Crime was nearly nonexistent. Nobody in Paradise was really rich and nobody was really poor. The popular boys in my high school drove souped-up Mustangs. I don’t remember once seeing a homeless person or a beggar. Definitely didn’t see any gangbangers with diamond rings.

So, when I moved down to L.A. when I was 17, it didn’t take long before I ditched my pink and turquoise-colored clothes and began wearing Doc Marten boots. Combined with dyed black hair and a motorcycle jacket, I didn’t look like anybody’s victim as I trod the streets of L.A.

My home was a ten-by-ten empty box on the fourth-floor of the American Hotel, above a punk rock bar called Al’s Bar that had hosted Nirvana and Jane’s Addiction and Charles Bukowski.

My Los Angeles neighborhood was also the homeless population on Skid Row, the smells, the filth, the litter. The down-and-out artists in the warehouse district. The mentally ill population begging for money in Little Tokyo. The homeless city under the fourth-street bridge.

It was sirens and police and robberies and muggings and break ins. Stolen car radios. Stolen car batteries. After my care was broken into and I couldn’t afford to replace the window in my car, a homeless guy decided to make the backseat of my Dodge hatchback his bed. And then asked me for change when I kicked him out.

Life in downtown Los Angeles was Real Life. With a capital R and capital L. It was a far cry from my college life in Long Beach where I rode on the back of a friend’s Vespa scooter to barhop at beachside cafes.

In downtown L.A., the rose-colored glasses had been broken under my black Doc Marten boot.

As I walked through L.A. in the mornings, I was gathering material. Even then, I was a writer. I would go back to my studio and write about what I saw in downtown L.A. on my portable Brother word processor, the one with the green screen that only showed three lines at a time.

I would write and smoke cigarettes and count my change so I could afford a coffee at the café downstairs and I would tell myself:

“Don’t ever forget this. This is real. This is how life is for many people around the world. Don’t ever forget and don’t ever forget them.”

I would tell myself:

“Don’t allow yourself to grow up and become so comfy and cozy and complacent as you live in your little safe suburban house one day. Don’t allow yourself to become desensitized to this: Real Life.”

And then the city exploded.

The L.A. riots came straight to my front door. National guard members in full body armor marched down my street. They dug trenches in nearby empty dirt lots and turned parking lots into military-style camps. Buildings burned, people died, and the smoke turned the sunset blood red.

My neighbors on the fourth-floor of the hotel patrolled the roof with Uzi’s and pistols to defend our building against rioters. Real Life had turned into a Third World Country.

Shortly after, I graduated from college and my boyfriend was discharged from the military. On the heels of the riots and a 7.3 magnitude earthquake that had my brick home rocking, we left L.A., heading for Seattle to chase the grunge scene like so many of our L.A. friends were doing.

Twenty-some years later, I live in a cute little house in Minneapolis. We’re not rich by any means: we drive used cars and are very careful with our money, but compared to the rest of the world, we are extremely wealthy.

It’s easier now to forget, but in the back of my mind I try to remember what Real Life is like for many people.

It is 2012. I have written my first book and my agent is trying to sell it to a publisher. It’s not selling. At least not right away. Instead of writing more books in the Gabriella Giovanni series, she tells me to write something completely different.

I can’t do that, I think. I don’t know how to write another book.

But then I do. Sitting at a sidewalk cafe in downtown Minneapolis, I’m back on city streets, back in a world that once was my life. I remember those many years ago when I reminded myself not to forget. And in that small kernel of inspiration, I realize I have a story to tell. It’s not wholly my story. There are parts of it that I lived and parts of it that I never could have lived, but it is a story I can tell.

So, I sat down and wrote City of Angels. It is the second book I ever wrote and the fifth traditionally published book with my name on it.

It isn’t always an easy book to read, but like all my books, there is always a strong undercurrent of hope. And it deals with real life.