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Review: Empty Promises

This is my second recent review here. I hope to do much more of this, so see the end of this post for details about my new review policy.

Review summary: James Jackson has written a book that is both entertaining and thought provoking, both heartfelt and action-filled. I enjoyed this story on so many levels, and will seek out the earlier Seamus McCree novels soon. This is a 4.5/5 star book in my opinion. Details are below

About this book: Seamus McCree’s first solo bodyguard assignment goes from bad to worse. His client disappears. His grand-dog finds a buried human bone. Police find a fresh human body. His client is to testify in a Chicago money laundering trial. He’s paranoid that with a price on his head, if the police know where he’s staying, the information will leak. Seamus promised his business partner and lover, Abigail Hancock, that he’d keep the witness safe at the McCree family camp located deep in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s woods.

Abigail is furious at his incompetence and their relationship flounders. Even his often-helpful son, Paddy, must put family safety ahead of helping his father. Seamus risks his own safety and freedom to turn amateur sleuth in hopes he can solve the crimes, fulfill his promise of protection, and win back Abigail. Wit and grit are on his side, but the clock is ticking . . . and the hit man is on his way.

About the author: James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series consisting of five novels and one novella. Jim splits his time between the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s Lowcountry. He claims the moves between locations are weather-related, but others suggest they may have more to do with not overstaying his welcome. He is the past president of the 700+ member Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. You can find information about Jim and his books at http://jamesmjackson.com. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and/or Amazon.

Giveaway: James M. Jackson will be awarding the chance to name a character who will appear in FALSE BOTTOM (Seamus McCree #6) to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Learn more, and register to win.

My full review: Having not read any of the earlier Seamus McCree books, I began this one feeling somewhat disconnected from the main character. The plot was interesting, but the emotion was lacking. However, as the story progressed, the protagonist and his family came into better focus, while the action kept moving. By half way through the book I was fully engaged.

What I liked best:

  1. This is first and foremost a well done story. One could quibble that it is a little predictable here and a little cliche there but I don’t see how an author can develop a plot as intricate as this without leaving themselves open to such complaints. Bottom line: is it is humanly believable and logically consistent. That is no small feat.
  2. I would have liked to know more about all of the characters, but I suspect this is a pitfall of starting with the fifth book in a collection. What is presented of them here is well done, with particular kudos to the father son relationship and the wonderfully portrayed three year old granddaughter. Even the dog is well written.
  3. I’m not such a fan of first person narratives, and the switching between first and third person threw me at first. I do happen to like head hopping, however, and I enjoyed the way the frequent changes in perspective moved the story along. Part way through the book, I realized I had totally acclimated to the mix of first and third person, and by the exciting and rather lengthy climax scene, I found it particularly effective.
  4. I always appreciate when an author has the background, or has done the research, to add local color to the setting. I felt like I was on the Upper Peninsula by the end of this book, listening to the birds and riding around in an ATV.
  5. There are a few bad guys in this story, but the ultimate creep gets to have his own point of view, and he is appropriately chilling.

What I liked least: As you can probably tell, by the end of the book there wasn’t much I didn’t like. If forced to find items to have a minor quarrel about, I’d mention these:

  1. The local environmentalist was a caricature, and an unpleasant one at that. (I’m something of an environmentalist.)  Every other character of significance was more multi-dimensional.
  2. The sheriff’s degree of anger with Seamus sometimes seemed out of proportion to the events, particularly given the two men had collaborated together in the past. Maybe the sheriff is supposed to be an unusually angry individual?

Like I said, minor points. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good crime thriller.

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions.

 

My favorite excerpt: 

Had Owen returned my call? Had Abigail found anything? Any word from Bartelle after Owen ratted me out? My phone claimed it had no voice or text messages. Sometimes the signal is so weak the phone doesn’t receive messages, so I brought the remainder of my drink to the deck, where the signal was strongest, and dialed voicemail. The sun-heated decking was uncomfortable on my bare feet. I shifted weight from foot to foot to minimize the discomfort and keyed in my password.

You have no messages at this time.

Back inside, I booted up the computer and checked email. Nothing relevant and no help for my situation.

I had a long, positive history with Sheriff Lon Bartelle. Was it strong enough for him to cut me some slack over my initially lying to him? Surely, the best way to tell him of my malfeasance was face-to-face. Like a man mounting the scaffold for his hanging, I forced leaden legs to return me to the deck. My call to Bartelle brought the information that he was in the office but not available to come to the phone.

I put Atty on a lead to do her business and then shut her in the house. “Sorry girl, I need to leave you home for this one. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

She trotted to the living room and, without a glance back, crawled onto the couch, where she didn’t belong. She pawed the throw pillow resting against one arm, knocking it flat, and stretched out, snuggling into the back of the couch and resting her head on the flattened pillow. Her eyes met mine and she grinned, as if to say, “What? I’m just following orders.”

A personal note: I am a writer myself and therefore come to all reviews with biases born not only of my personal preferences  but also of my own writing style. In this case the author’s well done frequent changes of point of view, and his flair for local details, resonated with my own efforts and no doubt bought him extra enthusiasm from me.

I also received a free pdf copy of this book from Goddess Fish, the value of which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.

If you are interested in a review from me: I read speculative fiction of all sorts, have a fondness for metaphysical tales and particularly like stories with a strong female protagonist. I will consider novels of almost all types that relate to the general theme of world peace. I am not interested in reviewing non-fiction, romance novels, stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review books about vampires or zombies. If you would like to be considered for a review please send all the usual information to Lola (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2018 in other authors

 

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Too much!

say and learnI drew this up this in my head the other night when I couldn’t fall asleep. This is my brain on overload.

So you can see that I had this post in mind before I read Danae Wulfe’s brilliant post Too Many Books but she gets full credit for getting me to sit down today and write this. I am bursting out like the weeds on my front lawn. I am filled with ideas to write about. Blogs, short stories, and wonderful new twists for the book I am working on now all pop in and out of my head. Are they all that great? I’m sure they are not, but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t found the time to write down half of them. The point is that I have SO MUCH to say I can’t contain myself. It must be the spring air.

Then I walk into a book store, or have a conversation with another writer I respect. (I did both last week and I think that is what set me off.) Suddenly, I realize that I haven’t read anything recent. Or important. Not to mention keeping up with the news which any sensible person should be doing these days. Then there is research for my volunteer position, professional growth in my real life job, studying up on how to grow a garden in the mountains and okay, you get the idea. How can I possibly be this old and still not know so many things?

life lessons14My yoga/qigong brain tells me to take a few breaths, it will all be okay. The problem is that my monkey mind is considering staging a coup because it is starting to suspect that all these meditative arts are the main reason I don’t seem to have enough time to write or learn as much as I want. A rebellious faction tucked deep in the cerebral cortex thinks I need to be quiet and learn more. I seem to have a populist revolt going on over in the right brain that favors running away to an obscure foreign country and just writing my heart out. The parent in my head thinks I really out to finish unpacking the rest of my crap before I do either. And the child in my brain would just like to sit down and color for awhile.

It’s a nice problem to have, isn’t it? There are too many things I want to do. People rely on me. I’m curious about my world. Okay, okay, I recognize that there are worse situations in which to be. Still, what I need is a forty-eight hour day in which to get everything done.

A tiny voice in the back of my brain whispers to me. “You can have a forty-eight hour day, you know, any time you want. Just cram two days together and call it one day. What’s to stop you?”

I have to laugh. Yeah, it’s not really the same but I could do that and maybe I’d feel better; like I just had a long nap and got a whole lot more done that day.

“It’s kind of brilliant,” I say to the tiny voice. “Maybe I should put you in charge for awhile.”

It whispers back to me. “Don’t worry. I already am.”

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2016 in being better, writing

 

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My Imaginary Prison Time

sceince of mind 1We get by. When those around us have more, we feel cheated. When those around us have less, there is this sense of satisfaction, or gratitude, or relief at our good fortune, that makes us happy. I don’t think most of us consciously want to have more than others, but I do think that we define normal based on what we see.

Everyone in the neighborhood has a hover car but you and maybe one other person. Feeling bad? No one in the neighborhood has a car of any kind but you and this real rich guy up the hill. Feeling good? You get the idea.I recently read a short story that intimated that fairly tale princesses were far less well off than today’s teenagers. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that princesses were happier though, because they were special. Then again maybe not. We are talking about about teenagers here.

At any rate, a while back I hit a difficult time in my career and I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I’d made my way into some management positions early on and the perks were pretty nice. I had a corner office and I do like my windows. Nice wood furniture and big plants can make you feel pretty important, especially when yours is little nicer than everyone else’s on the floor.

Things changed. My company was bought out and as my career morphed with new circumstances, I returned to technical work and a single window, cheaper office furniture and a small plant. Still not bad.Things kept changing. I had choices to make and went with consulting as I liked the freedom. But consultants usually get put in cubes. My little cubicle wasn’t bad. I could see out of a window down the hall. But when a new contract put me in the tiniest cube yet in the darkest corner of a windowless room, something in me screamed. This isn’t fair. I work hard. The situation wasn’t helped by the many beautifully furnished window offices sitting empty, being held for “real” employees soon to be hired.

Okay, I thought, time to get a grip. So I started to do what I do best. I began to make things up.

I was being held in a minimum security prison. I’m not sure what crime I committed, but it was something non-violent and even kind of noble. Maybe I refused to give up the name of a source and was being held for contempt. Yeah, that was good. My sentence included being kept in this little dark cube all day, where I was required to contribute by working on some inane thing I could care less about. (Not every piece of this fantasy was total fiction.) But lucky, lucky me. Due to prison overcrowding and my general good behavior, I was released every night to go directly home, where I could see my husband, eat a good home-cooked meal, watch TV shows of my choice and sleep in my own bed. The requirement (enforced by some sort of ankle-bracelet arrangement I was a little vague about) was that I had to return at the same time the next morning and continue to serve my sentence.

Not a bad deal when you think about it. I had creature comforts at the end of every day and all the sky I wanted to see from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. and most of the other women here weren’t half as lucky. I started to feel bad for them, and feel pretty good about my own situation at the same time.

The fantasy was helped along by the fact that my real-life contract was for 10 months, after which I knew I would be moving on. I exed off the days on my calendar like any prisoner would, and did my best to savor and appreciate the wonderful privileges I had been granted while I served. When the real-life contracted ended, I said something to my husband about being so excited to finally get out of jail.

“It was that bad?” He looked shocked.

“No, not really.” I squeezed his hand. “They treated me okay and let me come home every night to you and it could have been so much worse.”

“You’re a weird one,” is all he said.

Yeah, well, we all find a way to get by. Some methods leave us feeling happier than others.

(Read more at “My Imaginary Time in Witness Protection“.)

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2015 in being better, empathy

 

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and then you bleed …

blood2I’ve just handed my fourth novel off to the first of my beta readers and I’m taking a little time to reflect, not to mention time to do a few loads of towels and go through the “where the hell did this junk come from” pile on my dresser. I’ll be starting d4 in October, and it now looks like I will in fact write a collection of six books. Wow.

I’m thinking of Ernest Hemingway today. It’s somewhat embarrassing that I’ve never read one of his novels even though I love many of his quotes. Recently I found this one. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Five years ago I would have found that silly and overly dramatic. Today it strikes me as the most succinct and accurate description of writing fiction that I have ever read.  Not that I write as well as Hemingway. He wasn’t talking about good or bad writing, just about the act of pouring yourself intotypewriter a story. No matter how overblown it seems, the truth is that I have pretty much gotten up for three days a week for the last seven months and picked up my lovely new ultralight computer, taken it out to my porch, and bled all over it. And found it fun.

Now that I’m handing the bloody mess off to friends and strangers alike, I have to wonder what motivates such odd behavior. I’m a very private person, yet I’m incapable of creating a story that isn’t filled with my most personal dreams and fears. I’m also incapable of not creating stories. I am aware that this didn’t end well for Hemingway, or for a lot of other writers that I admire. Others seemed to have navigated those same waters and survived and even thrived. What makes the difference?

Maybe while I’m on break I’ll skim a few writer’s biographies and try to figure out how others bandaged up their open wounds in between books. Maybe I’ll even finally read “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. I mean, how can I be writing a collection of stories that starts off with the premise that we are all one, and not have read a book that takes its title from a 1624 quote that says

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Words worth considering as our world contemplates one more outbreak of war, and as each one of us sits on our porch and tries to bandage our own wounds from the previous day.

injury sign

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in writing

 

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Not thinking in Costa Rica.

I get it. Thinking about not thinking does NOT constitute not thinking.

Costa Rica 1Apparently I have persistent chatter in my head, which I have agreed to refer to by the rather unflattering phrase “monkey mind”, at least for the next few days. Friends have talked me into joining them on this week-long retreat in beautiful Costa Rica for an introduction to the ancient art of Qi Gong.  It is related to Tai Chi and King Fu, all of which involve understanding and ultimately manipulating the flow of energy through one’s body. I’m a long way from doing anything impressive, but I am finding the concept cool and the exercises alternately invigorating or relaxing. Originally we were planning on a girl’s weekend in San Francisco shopping, and I’m not sure how it morphed into this activity instead, but oddly enough I am glad that it did.

We are entering into the meditation phase of the day’s session. Be quiet, monkey I say to myself. Luckily I talk to myself a lot anyway so this isn’t a problem. You’re a person of words my inner monkey replies. You need your words. You use them to write books, remember?  Well, the monkey has a point there.

Costa Rica 3Just to demonstrate her worth further, the monkey begins reciting back to me the post called Feeling Gratitude in Costa Rica that I just wrote for my other blog. It is true that as I write, I stop every so often and recite the words I have written back to myself, listening to their sounds and turning them over in my head, analyzing whether each has conveyed my thought or feeling in the best way possible. See, that’s me and you writing, the monkey says.

Really? Because when the words themselves are being created, once I’ve gotten going, I don’t say the words in my head and it often seems as though I’m not in my head at all. There is this sort of odd peace inside me while ideas flow all mistyped onto the screen and although sometimes I anticipate what I am going to type, more often I don’t. It’s a state in which I can be startled by everyday sounds and can’t easily function for a few seconds after an interruption. It’s dynamic and yet peaceful and it feels as good as anything I know. In fact, it is very much like meditation, but with me being a lot more active.

Then it occurs to me, and I have an answer for my monkey.  I mostly write without you, dear monkey mind.  What you and I do together is called editing. You’re my internal editor! And  you’re a great one. I’m so glad I have you.

Costa Rica 2I give my internal chattering monkey a mental hug of appreciation and then send her off for a nice nap. We’re not editing now. We’re meditating. Not thinking. Not … no not that thought either. Not anything. Not any thought. We are.

Read more about my novice attempts at meditation here. Read about other changes this week has wrought here.

To learn more about Qi Gong and what I have spent this past week studying, please visit Sifu Anthony’s website called “Flowing Zen” here.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2013 in oneness

 

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From zero to three novels in under two years: was this a good idea? (Part Two)

brain cellOn my blog for the novel y1 I shared a few thoughts last night about finishing my third book and what I though of each of my three novels. The introspection was promoted, I think, by the vertigo induced by going from no creative writing at all (except what goes on naturally in my head all the time) to writing three novels in two years. I’m still not totally sure why I was suddenly compelled to write so much so fast.  An aging body and new sense of mortality? The added free time that suddenly comes with grown children and no living parents?  A letting go of my career ambitions in my “day job” as a geophysicist?  Probably all of the above. But mostly, I had this story to tell and all of the sudden I was compelled to tell it while I still remembered it all. (That’s a picture up there of my brain cell trying to remember.)

writingLast night’s thoughts prompted me to ask myself two questions. 1. Would these have been better books if I had spent more time writing them? 2. Would the rest of my life be better if I had taken a more laid back approach?

To the first, I think the answer is only marginally. Writing fast and obsessively is clearly my way and I can’t create using someone else’s style.  I suppose that I could have edited more, but frankly I’d gotten to the point where I would change words and then change them back again, so any added improvements from those last bouts of editing were barely incremental. The books might have benefited from sitting on a shelf for a couple of years and then being looked at with fresh eyes, but there isn’t a universe in which Sherrie Cronin behaves that way.

saladAs to the second, I am a lucky person.  I share my home and my life with a partner who is not only supportive of this effort, but who thinks it is kind of cool and who brings me plates of healthy food so I won’t live on cereal and popcorn. My children are remarkably independent people, my sister drops her own work to help me with cover ideas, and my job seldom infringes on my free time. It’s true. I’ve been dealt a great a hand. My biggest issues are lack of sleep and lack of exercise, both of which I swear to handle better for the next three novels.sleep

Oh yes, there are three more coming. I’m already so excited about the next one, and I really want to start it tonight, but I promised myself I would get more sleep.  So I start it on Saturday. I can’t wait.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in writing

 

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