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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Book Review – Silver Needle Murder

TITLE: The Silver Needle Murder (Tea Shop Mystery #9)
AUTHOR: Laura Childs
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 2009

 readingchallengesmall

The tea shop mysteries are a series of books that center around Theodosia Browning and her little tea shop in Charleston, SC.  She’s an amateur sleuth that just happens to be somewhere that gets her involved in a mystery at any given time.

In this one, a film festival is about to be held, and she’s catering something with sandwiches and pots of hot tea when the speaker gets murdered in front of everyone and the killer knocks Theodosia out of the way to use the dumb waiter as means of escape.  Thus, she’s involved.  Oh, and her friend-slash-employee gets knocked out in the kerfuffle.

The book is supposed to be a cosy mystery.  And it sort of is, but Laura Childs has a pretty extensive vocabulary and so the book isn’t the same easy reading as Sue Grafton’s ABCs or the Miniatures series I reviewed last year.  The resulting effect is sort of, um, obnoxious.  Everyone sounds pompous and a bit arrogant and as a reader, I just kept wondering when they could relax already and say something that didn’t leave them sounding like a snob.   Because education and vocabulary are fine and all, but when every character sounds like an Ivy League stereotype, you’re doing it wrong.

A couple other issues I had… I know these are tea mysteries, and thus the theme is going to be in everything, but I can’t imagine that *anyone* cares this much about tea.  Even Laura Childs.  A high society film festival is in town, let’s brew some tea.  The main detective in town (hello, it’s Charleston…there has to be more than one somewhere, but she only ever talks to the same one…) wants lunch, so he miraculously loves sipping fresh brewed tea and having finger sandwiches.  I live in a household with somebody who likes tea.  I can guarantee you that she’s never gone to a tea house.

Also, I know it’s nit-picky, but there are like a dozen food references and each one of them is some over-done seafood extravaganza.  I don’t even like to smell seafood, so every time they started talking about what was in the meal, I started skimming and not caring.  The meals in her “meager shop” were several courses and probably $15+ each and the most unappetizing drivel ever.  I will spare you the bad analogy I want to use here, but it was like food porn for the author’s sake and nothing else.

If Theodosia’s shop were real, I wouldn’t step foot in it.

So the story in this particular book is a little weak.

I mean, not a lot happens, but Theodosia keeps having conversations that don’t seem all that important to me, and there’s a whole not a lot revealed until the very end where she’s suddenly smarter than the police and figures it out.

When I started reading it, I wanted to give it a better rating, but as the book progressed, I kept getting annoyed with things.  So I’m going to end the review at a 3/5.  Worth a read when you’re in the mood for a cozy, but a lot of room for improvement to make this an awesome story.

readingchallengesmall

This book satisfies the MYSTERY
component of the reading challenge.

1 book down and 51 books to go…

Writer Wednesday – Jackie Gamber

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Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
With Jackie Gamber, author of the Leland Dragon series

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’ve been a soldier, a secretary, and a stay-at-home mom, gone rogue into writing professionally.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
My published works include poetry, short stories, novelettes, and novels in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the genre-bending blends of them. I’m also an indie screenwriter/director, with four produced short films.

…and what you’re working on right now.
Since I’ve just finished “Reclamation”, book three of my Leland Dragons trilogy, I have a few more novel projects in the works; a steampunk fantasy, a SF-romance, and a paranormal-lit about a twin whose sister has died, and begins journaling as a tribute. I’m also writing my second full-length screenplay entitled “The Mark”, as well as other short film scripts.

What are your earliest book ­related memories?
I remember the Scholastic book program in school where I could peruse the book catalogue and order books that would come a month or so later right to my classroom. I always started with a “one of everything” sort of list, and then had to whittle down to one, or two – sometimes for 99cents! Also, I could describe in detail the layout of my town’s library. It used to have a clawfoot bathtub that I would spend more than my fair share of time in, with huge stacks of books beside me. I love libraries.

What are your three favorite books?
Just three? This is always a tough question for me to answer! I have favorite books for different reasons, but I have to say “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, and “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
When I read fiction I read one at a time. Non-fiction books could be as many as three or so, back and forth. Right now I’m reading “Quiet” by Susan Cain, about introversion in an extravert culture.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…forget about everything else. I even get irritated when I have to pause to use the restroom.

To re­read or not to re­read that is the question.
I re-read all the time! I don’t keep every book I buy because my bookshelves couldn’t possibly hold them all. I’m selective in that I only keep the ones I know I’ll go back to again.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
In my profession, I get a lot of recommendations. I don’t have enough time in the world to read them all, unfortunately. But I will, if it’s from a reader source I trust and the story sounds like my kind of thing. That’s really how all readers find books, mostly—word of mouth.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very likely! I do it all the time. Speaking of which, have you read “The Midwich Cuckoos” by John Wyndham?

What do you look for in a good book?
To me, a good book is full of believable characters that get involved in their own tale.

Why do you write?
I write because I’m a storyteller. I resisted the notion for years, but the truth is that I see life, and the world, through metaphor and symbolism. I’m always asking, “But what does that really mean?” and “What makes a person think like that?” It’s in my nature.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I have a knack for looking at others’ stories, and seeing why what they think they’re saying isn’t actually being communicated that way. If I wasn’t a writing, I’d be an editor (although, I do both, already). Outside of words, though, I’d be working more with animals; at a zoo or a rescue, probably.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
To be honest, I don’t exactly know the mechanism that whirrs into motion from observation to idea. But I spend a lot of time watching the world, and studying it, and trying to figure it out. Somewhere in there, inspiration happens.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
I’ve gone through dry periods, and times when I’ve set down my pen, so to speak, for the greater good of other responsibilities. I’ve struggled with how to find readers, how to prove to my contemporaries I’m not a hack. I’ve battled my demons that terrify me, and there have been days I’ve almost decided to just stop, because the desire to be heard is too hard to carry into an industry of cacophony.

I’ve lived with writing, and without it. What I’ve learned, is that I turn too inward, and become bitter and miserable, unless I believe in a world where writing happens, and that I can be a part of it.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My husband and two kids (my children are grown, now) have always been my support system. Beyond that, it’s hard to say. The stigma that science fiction or fantasy isn’t real writing lingers.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I wouldn’t wish a stereotype on anyone. Human beings share commonalities, of course, but I like to think my job as a writer, and fellow human, is to bust stereotypes, not feed them.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The writing industry is in a stage of rapid, almost violent, evolution. What used to be “the way” just isn’t anymore. Authors are writing books aimed at other authors for “how to do it the way I did” and a new one emerges practically every week. The biggest challenge I see for writers today is holding on to their own conviction, and their own ideals, while everyone is shouting into their face that their doing it wrong.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Some mistakes take a long time to make themselves known. My perception is that I may have trusted the wrong people a little too much, or a little too long. Sometimes, I haven’t trusted enough.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I’ve always said it’s a life goal of mine to write a book that one day is banned!

How do you deal with your fan base?
I don’t think of myself as having fans. But I love readers! I have so much in common with fellow readers. In the end, that’s what I am, anyway; a book lover who can’t resist writing a few of her own.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
I’m a pretty transparent person—or at least, I aim to be—so I’m not sure how surprising I am! Although I do tend to get a reaction of disbelief when I share with people how introverted I am. They say “You’re not shy!” But I am incredibly introverted, nonetheless. And I’ve spent an inordinate number of years figuring out it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Jackie Gamber is the award-winning author of many short stories, screenplays, and novels, including “Redheart”, “Sela”, and “Reclamation”, Books one through three of the Leland Dragon Series. For more information about Jackie and her mosaic mind, visit http://www.jackiegamber.com

And meet Jackie elsewhere on the world wide web at:
https://www.facebook.com/AllotropeMedia
http://www.amazon.com/author/JackieGamber
http://www.twitter.com/JackieGamber
http://www.facebook.com/jackiegamber

Book Review – Road to Marvel’s The Avengers

Title: Road To Marvel’s The Avengers

Created By: Various/Multiple Authors and Illustrators

Format: Paperback/Comics bound as a graphic novel

Written: 2010-2012

Published: 2012 (this binding)

This book features four ongoing comics – “I am Iron Man!,” “Iron Man 2: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” “Iron Man 2: Public Identity,” and “Captain America: First Vengeance” – and runs at least a hundred pages (they’re not numbered, I’m totally guessing).

These are supposed to be the lead up to the Avengers movie (and movie cannon).  The first part was written after the movie and based totally on it.  The other two Iron Man parts are sort of a lead up to the second movie.  Captain America is a lead up to when Rogers was chosen to be Cap –so the first bit of the movie.

Here’s the thing, I tend to like comics for their artwork.  (There’s not enough substance to the story for me to justify them otherwise.)  The artwork in here was –dark.  It sort of lost a little for me.  Most of the backgrounds are dark, there is hardly any white, etc.  I think that it would have benefitted from brighter artwork.

And the story lines are meant to be related to the movies, but the drawings don’t exactly look like the Tony Stark or Pepper Pots that we’ve seen so many times on the big screen.  If this was really done as a way to bridge comic fans and the movies…  what did they draw?  A hybrid?  Whatever they wanted?  I’m not familiar enough with the comics to know if they kept that aesthetic or started a new one.  But for what it is, I sort of expected Tony Stark to have an uncanny resemblance to Robert Downey, Jr., instead of just sorta looking like they could pass for the police sketch. Nevermind Chris Evans – he doesn’t look a thing like the drawings of Captain America.

Which brings me to another issue that I have with this.  There’s like one page that mentions something about old magic and shows a drawing of Odin.  Not even Thor.  If this is really the road to the Avengers, why don’t we have a Thor story of some sort, something about Hulk, etc?  There’s a bit about Natascha (Black Widow), since she goes undercover to keep tabs on Stark, but that’s it, and not a single word/mention/nod in Hawkeye’s direction.  I would have liked to see it a little more rounded.

In fact, I think that if it weren’t for the Captain America/Daddy Stark connection that they would have considered discluding him, too.  (And yes, I probably made that word totally up.)  This also opens my rant that they did stuff bass-ackwards and I would very much have liked to see Cap before Iron Man, just so you get the chronology and Iron Man’s history in the right order.

In the end – if you’re a fan of the Iron Man movie franchise, go ahead and pick this up.  If you’re psycho into the Avengers, you should have it because I’m quite sure you have everything else.  But if you’re a casual fan, you can watch the movies, skip this entirely and not have missed anything at all.  Not sure where that fits on the pages scale, I guess a three?

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