Book Review – Silver Tongue

Silver Tongue

AshleyRose Sullivan

Paperback

2015

 

Silver Tongue is, most simply, a story of three friends going out on an unfortunate (unlikely?) adventure.    Okay, maybe that’s too simple.

Silver Tongue is the story of three friends – Claire, Phil, and Sam – who live in Nouvelle France.  Yep, tis an Alt Hist story.  The year is 1839, and the Revolutionary War has finally ended, with the colonies in defeat.  What we know as the USA is divided into three colonies.  New Brittania (East of the Mississippi), Nouvelle France (Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains), and Nueva Espana (Rocky Mountains west).  No, not the author’s most creative naming of places.  

Oh, and about the three of them.  Phil is overly read and thus book smart.  And gay.  Claire is an Indian with special powers.  And Sam is a warewolf.

The book starts off with Claire getting tattoos around her arms from her Indian grandmother.  Then there’s an attack on Sam and a family member (who dies in the attack).  Sam survives and after a ritual from Claire’s Uncle, the three are now linked through more than just friendship.

The trio then set off to leave New Orleans and find the people responsible for the attack and to stop them. 

 

Okay.  Just.  Give me a minute to sigh deeply and then I’ll give you my review.  

SIGH.

So the book has an interesting feel to it, but not good interesting.  I actually sent a message to the publisher to verify how the book is categorized – Alternate History/Young Adult – to see if I was right.  I had it pegged as a very weak -punk of some sort, but I can see how Alternate History would feel that way.  But I really did need the publisher to tell me that.

And I had issues.  I mean, the sentences were technically beautiful.  Commas in the right places, well formed sentences, characters that didn’t totally blend into one another over the course of the book.  But the fact that I had to send a message to the publisher is a red flag.  

Also, the chapters are all wrapped up with neat little bows, and they didn’t have much (any) flow from one to the other.  I know that might sound like a “so?” type thing, but the problem was that when I got to the end of a chapter, nothing pulled me into the next one.  It was really easy to set this book down and walk away, which a book should never do.  The chapters themselves were easy to sum up in just a couple words.  Again, oversimplification, but it shouldn’t have been easy to do that.  “Tattoo Party,” “Attack on Sam,” “Sam’s secret,” “Riverboat…”  You get the idea.  

 

There were also a few nods throughout the story to real historical figures, and they did nothing for the story at all.

 

…SO

I wanted something that I didn’t get.  I wanted to see more of the world.  There was a backstory – the revolution/USA losing – but I never felt it.  If the chapter headings hadn’t given the date of the chapter, it could be any time.  There were few references to clothing, but they were vague, and there were a few details like horses and riverboats, but the author spent more time describing totally unimportant things like scenery.  

I wanted to feel the fabrics.  I wanted to see the thing that was Nouvelle France or New Britania.  (Nuevo Espana isn’t in this story).  Instead, I got a story that could have been just about anywhere.  There were a few little pockets of beautiful story, but the majority was just pretty writing.  

Several characters came and went and I’m not sure what their purpose was.  

When I got to the end, another perfect little bow, but this one to end this story and set up a perfect opportunity for a sequel.

 

I mean, the book didn’t suck, so there’s that.  And even though I had no trouble stopping at any point, I did at least want to read it (although as much to see if the story would ever get to its meat as anything else.  The answer is hot dogs.)  I will say that I was mostly satisfied with the results.

 

 

 

So I have to rate this thing, right?  Sigh.  AshleyRose has the basics down, and it was refreshing to at least see a book where I didn’t have to try to interpret what I had just read.  But there were a lot of things that she got to about 80% and just didn’t get all the way. And there were a few things that I just don’t see the point to.   I’ve deliberated on this one for most of the afternoon, and I’m going to settle on a solid 3/5 page rating.  I think with a little more work this author will be awesome.

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Book Review: Catch a Falling Clown: A Toby Peters Mystery by Stuart Kaminsky

Title: Catch a Falling Clown: A Toby Peters Mystery

Author: Stuart Kaminsky

Format: Paperback edition by Penguin Books

Published: originally 1981, Penguin Edition 1984

catchafallingclown
Before wading off once again into the land of reviews, a bit more clarification about me that should be added here, for those who are on this great literary adventure of my opinions with me either as new readers or as someone who read the first review I did last week.  Although I consider myself a voracious reader who can read anything and everything that has words pressed against paper, either literal or digital, I, like most beings of the human variety, have preferences.  Those predilections tend to veer toward reading works that have a mystery or crime at their core.  They also, more often than not, have to do with books in series, or at least books that feature characters that have appeared in books previous or will appear in books future.  Again, not anything against stand alone books or dramas, science fiction, etc., because I do love my Genre Fiction.  I just have a jones for one Genre more than the others.   And the author of Catch a Falling Clown is one of the reasons why.

Stuart Kaminsky, although known for several books and characters, is near and dear to many a mystery fan’s heart for his creation, Toby Peters.  Set in 1930s and 40s Los Angeles, Toby is a semi hard boiled private detective with a policeman brother who he has a rather rocky relationship with and a penchant for getting cases from and involving the famous and infamous of golden Age Hollywood.  Everyone from John Wayne to Errol Flynn to General Douglas MacArthur, Toby has done work for, crossed paths with, and in some cases kept out of jams that would have ended their lives and careers.  In Catch a Falling Clown, well known circus clown and star Emmett Kelly hires Toby when the circus is in town to come out and investigate a death, what Kelly believes to be a murder.  Of an elephant.  Of course, once Toby is involved, murder sort of catches on and spreads like a bad cold to circus members of the human variety and Peters finds himself not only having to figure out who has it out for the circus, but also to prove that he isn’t the murderer he’s looking for!

Stuart Kaminsky’s Toby Peters series appeals to me for all sorts of reasons.  First, I am a major aficionado of the time period and of the type of detective that Peters is.   One of the great things about how Kaminsky crafts Toby Peters is that he is what a hard boiled detective in the real world would be like.  He has back problems, is haunted by a mad clown in his nightmares, and functions day to day in and around dysfunction, sometimes of his own creation.   Yet he’ll also push the limits, pound the pavement, fight with both fists, and demand people do what they don’t want to if need be, even if it kills them.  That is the biggest pleasure I get from reading a Toby Peters book, that sense of reality in the lead character.

Another big positive for the Peters series is that Kaminsky, a Professor of Film, uses his great knowledge of Hollywood and movies to make the Peters stories extra special.  Not only does Toby come across as someone of flesh and blood, but Kaminsky adds gristle to the bone of the legends of entertainment and history that we all love.  In Catch A Falling Clown, we literally see the man behind Emmett Kelly’s famous clown face and he becomes three dimensional.   Also, a particularly British and rather corpulent director makes an appearance in the tale as well and Kaminsky renders him quite efficiently.  The fictional characters, from the snake lady who Toby ends up having a rather strange relationship with to the corrupt and angry policeman out to get Peters, are all well defined and yet each have their own quirks that add to their realism without making them stereotypes or pastiches.

Another fantastic part of this book is something that is present in every Toby story from Kaminsky, and that is Toby’s supporting cast.  From his best friend, who also happens to be a dwarf who had been in the Wizard of Oz, a wrestling poet, a rather inept dentist, to his often angry, usually cranky cop brother, the characters that regularly recur in Toby’s life always add dimensions to each story and in this one, get actively involved, which makes for fun reading.

All in all, Catch a Falling Clown is a good, solid read, an acceptable entry into the Peters series.  It was not my favorite of Toby’s tales, primarily because of a slow build up, something that isn’t normal for a Kaminsky book of any stripe, and then a twist at the end that, while quite brilliant, left me slightly disappointed. Having said that, Toby’s time on the other side of the law as a fugitive about midway through gave the book a sparkle and pace that definitely engaged right until the end and was pure Kaminsky.  So, five out of six bullets for me, or for you Book in the Bag types, a good, strong four out of five pages.

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