Category Archives: books

Review: ‘Murder on Edisto’ by C. Hope Clark

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Murder on Edisto (The Edisto Island Mysteries, #1)Murder on Edisto by C. Hope Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This well-written and highly readable mystery/thriller is marred only by the fact that it begins with a formulaic set-up for novels of its genre: A tough-as nails woman, who went north for her career, experiences a devastating personal loss, escapes from continued threats to herself and her son, and runs home to her parents low country town in South Carolina for recuperation and solace only to find herself caught in the middle of a crime spree.

No sooner has she moved in to her family’s long-time Edisto Island beach house, than her next door neighbor–and old friend from her childhood–is murdered and an odd series of break-ins begins in the tightly knit community. Clark does a good job building the suspense. Almost everyone in the community appears to be a suspect–including the police.

Callie Morgan’s experience as a Boston detective sergeant gives her plenty of reasons to wonder whether or not the local police department is capable of solving such crimes. While the police acknowledge that her experience as an ex-cop might provide them with valuable help, her continued nightmares and jittery nerves make them wonder if she is, as one man says, “damaged goods” and too flighty to be taken seriously. Even her teenage son wonders if her head is on straight. On top of that, some residents suspect her of the break-ins since they began on the day she moved into the beach house.

While there are strong men in the book, ramping up multiple possibilities for romance, suspicion, arguments about police procedures, and “being rescued,” the author allows Callie to slowly find herself. And that makes for a very satisfying conclusion.

Malcolm 
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Briefly Noted: ‘Norse Mythology’ by Neil Gaiman

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Those of us who were taught Roman and Greek mythology in school with a smattering of myths from other cultures know the names of some of the Norse gods while remaining unclear about the big picture. In Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman has gone back to original sources–primarily the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda–for his content so that he could re-tell the stories as folk tales without authorial embellishment in today’s language.

In a sense, he has done what Steinbeck did in The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights as opposed to the novelization approaches of T. H. White in The Once and Future King or Mary Stewart in her Merlin books, or Marion Zimmer Bradley in her Avalon series. Those authors all wrote masterful and exciting books based on the Arthurian legends. However, each took “authors license,” including the thoughts and feelings of the characters, imagined descriptions of locales, and story lines that were not 100% in accord with the original texts. Some have criticized Gaiman for not writing about Odin, Thor, Loki and the other primary characters via the stunning saga style of epic fantasy.

Gaiman has done those of us who love mythology a great service by not extrapolating from his source material or otherwise using his own wide-in-scope imagination with a Game of Thrones approach. Like Steinbeck, he has told the stories in the simple language of the true folktale (with a liberal dash of wit), and from that, we come away with a new understanding of Asgard and its gods and goddesses.

From the Publisher’s Description

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.

From The Guardian

Gaiman’s characteristically limpid, quick-running prose keeps the dramatic impetus of the medieval texts, if not their rough-hewn quality. His telling of the tales is for children and adults alike, and this is both right and wise, it being the property of genuine myth to be accessible on many levels.

I found the book to be a wonderfully entertaining adventure into a world I had previously seen in unfinished puzzles of torn bits and pieces.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of folk tales, paranormal, and magical realism stories and novels.

Mother’s Day Weekend Sale – three books are free

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Three of my books are on sale on Kindle Sunday and Monday for $0.00. (May 14th and 15th).

At Sea

Even though he wanted to dodge the draft in Canada or Sweden, David Ward joined the navy during the Vietnam War. He ended up on an aircraft carrier. Unlike the pilots, he couldn’t say he went in harm’s way unless he counted the baggage he carried with him. As it turned out, those back home were more dangerous than enemy fire.

This novel was inspired by my services aboard an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin in the late 1960s.

Mountain Song

David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?

This novel was inspired by my work as a seasonal employee in Glacier National Park.

Carrying Snakes Into Eden

The title story, “Carrying Snakes Into Eden,” is a whimsical 1960s-era tale about two students who skip church to meet some girls at the beach and end up picking up a hobo with a sack of snakes, and realize there may be long-term consequences.

“Hurricane in the Garden” is a folktale that explains why the snakes were swept out of Eden in the first place. The story features animal characters who made their debut in the three-story set called “Land Between the Rivers.”

These stories are inspired by a love of the Florida Panhandle where I grew up.

Happy Mother’s Day,

Malcolm

The subjectivity of literary taste and who’s telling you what’s good

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“Taste is subjective. It is built from our personal experiences, our values, what we have read and watched and listened to all through our lives, and even stuff such as gender, race, nationality, and so on. Taste is political. Most of us would prefer our art to simply reinforce, rather than challenge, our worldview, so we tend to read writers who share our backgrounds, our values and so on. We create little artistic bubbles and don’t question them nearly enough.” – Jessa Crispin in Enough David Foster Wallace, already! We need to read beyond our bubbles in The Guardian

I’m an old white man. But unlike a lot of other white men, young and old, I disliked David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest so much, that I couldn’t even finish it. That’s rare for me. I was taught to clean up my plate and to finish the books I started. No matter, this book was like collard greens simmered in squid ink with a topping of chocolate-covered ants.

But, I digress. The point of Crispin’s article isn’t simply that women and some men are tired of white men telling them they must read Infinite Jest because “it’s important,” it’s that for years the elite of literary critics were eastern-based white men who had so much in common with each other in the small bubble where they lived and read and formed opinions so similar that they tended to recommend the same books that–when it came down to it–supported what they believed about literature and life.

In short, they created the canon because they told the rest of us what’s good and what’s not.

Times are changing in spite of the fact that Americans read a notoriously small number of books from outside the western world. But, we’re seeing more women and more non-Caucasians in the mix of books reviewers are finally reviewing, writing about and recommending.

Perhaps that means more readers are listening to new advice. Perhaps that means there’s more diversity in the origins of the printed word.  I’m sure my reading habits support my own world view; it’s just that my world view is (and has been) at odds with the eastern white men pontificating from their little literary bubble.

We all like what we like. That’s fair enough. But when and why did we start liking what we like? Perhaps those snobbish white men whispered in our ears without our knowing it.

Crispin’s article is a reminder that we all need to be more adventurous when we read. It’s not like that adventure is going to brainwash us into people we no longer recognize in the mirror. We’ll probably change, but for my money, change beats stasis and more of “the same old same old.”

Malcolm

Briefly Noted: ‘Coyote Stories’ by Mourning Dove

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In the spring of 1930, Colville [Washington] author Christine Quintasket wrote to her non-Indian colloborator, Lucullus McWhorter, offering reassurance. “I am going to the mountains again in August,” she informed him, “when flowers of mystery are in full bloom, and then I shall ‘do my stuff.’ Our book is going to be a success. [My] Indian beliefs will prove it.” As these words suggest, Quintasket applied her ancestral training in support of her contemporary aims: to advocate for her Colville people and to preserve their collective culture. – Laurie Arnold in “Montana The Magazine of Western History, Spring 2017

Quintasket (1884-1936), who wrote under the name Mourning Dove (Hum-Ishu-Ma) is known for her novel Half-Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range (1927) and her folklore collection Coyote Stories (1933). Both books are still available today.

Her novel was the first to be written by an Indian woman with an Indian protagonist. The novel explores the challenges faced by native American mothers who were married to white fathers. Greatly edited by McWhorter without Quintasket’s knowledge, the book did poorly.

Coyote Stories is a collection of tales Quintasket heard from tribal elders, including her grandmother. In his foreword to the book, Chief Standing Bear wrote,  “These legends are of America, as are its mountains, rivers, and forests, and as are its people. They belong!” Coyote stories sold well and received much critical acclaim.

Publisher’s Description (2013 edition)

Wikipedia Photo

A powerful force and yet the butt of humor, the coyote figure runs through the folklore of many American Indian tribes. He can be held up as a “terrible example” of conduct, a model of what not to do, and yet admired for a careless. anarchistic energy that suggests unlimited possibilities. Mourning Dove, an Okanagan, knew him well from the legends handed down by her people. She preserved them for posterity in Coyote Stories, originally published in 1933.

Here is Coyote, the trickster, the selfish individualist, the imitator, the protean character who indifferently puts the finishing touches on a world soon to receive human beings. And here is Mole, his long-suffering wife, and all the other Animal People, including Fox, Chipmunk, Owl-Woman, Rattlesnake, Grizzly Bear, Porcupine, and Chickadee. Here it is revealed why Skunk’s tail is black and white, why Spider has such long legs, why Badger is so humble, and why Mosquito bites people. These entertaining, psychologically compelling stories will be welcomed by a wide spectrum of readers.

Jay Miller has supplied an introduction and notes for this Bison Books edition and restored chapters that were deleted from the original.

According to Laurie Arnold, “As a child of the 1880s, Quintasket was a member of the first generation of Colville people who needed to be bicultural in order to maintain Native community ties and to control their participation in a Western world that was trying to overtake and assimilate them.”

As the Handbook of Native American Literature by Andrew Wiget notes, the Daily Oklahoman wrote in 1934 that Coyote Stories represents “a spiritual heritage that can never be replaced.” A. B. Guthrie said in the Lexington Kentucky Leader said that Mourning Dove is an effective storyteller with “a fine simplicity of expression.”

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two Florida folktale novels, Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman.

 

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive a free book

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Thomas-Jacob Publishing is offering free copies of Melinda Clayton’s novel Making Amends to those who sign-up for our newsletter via the InstaFreebie site. This offer is good through the end of this month.

Just enter you name and e-mail address, and then choose the file type you want: MOBI, EPUB, or PDF.

We promise not to send you a deluge of stuff. We hope you’ll like what we do send: announcements of new books, a few poems, and a bit of news.

I enjoyed reading Making Amends. Here’s the publisher description from Amazon:

On a beautiful fall evening, in the middle of a game of hide-and-seek, five-year-old Bobby Clark is kidnapped by his estranged father, a shiftless man with a history of domestic violence and drug abuse. Bobby’s twin brother Ricky watches, terrified, from his hiding place behind the bougainvillea, while mother Tabby, who also struggles with addiction, lies inebriated on the living room floor. Bobby isn’t seen by his loved ones again until a fateful morning twenty-five years later, when video of his arrest dominates the morning news. He has been charged with the murder of his father, but before the trial can begin, he manages to escape. As Tabby and Ricky absorb the news of Bobby’s return and subsequent escape, Tabby is convinced he’ll come home to the quiet Florida street from which he was taken so long ago. But when events begin to spiral out of control, she’s left to wonder: is a child born to be evil, or shaped to be evil? And in the end, when it’s time to make amends, does it really matter?

I hope you enjoy the book and the Thomas-Jacob newsletter. The next issue should be out near the end of this month.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

Review: ‘Parade of Horribles’ by Rhett DeVane

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The people in Rhett DeVane’s new novel Parade of Horribles are the kind of folks, foibles and all, that most of us wish we knew, wish we could call kin, and when danger and hatred intrude into our lives, wish we had looking out for us. Chattahoochee is a real town in the Florida Panhandle and, as the book’s back cover description tells us, it really does have a “state mental institution on the main drag.”

Do Elvina Houston, Hattie Lewis and Jake Witherspoon really live there? Probably not. But they are so real in Parade of Horribles that–in telling their story–DeVane has seemingly conjured them out of the cosmos and placed them there, 37 miles west of Tallahassee as the crow flies, alongside the Apalachicola River. A notable feature in the town, the river is a figurative and literal feature in DeVane’s well-told story. It’s both a haunting reminder of old wounds and a restful escape from the 24/7 preparations for the upcoming harvest festivals and a growing number of signs there may be a dangerous serpent in this Garden of Eden.

DeVane hints at the danger early on the way Hitchcock would show a trace of something wrong near the beginning of his feature films. But the townspeople’s attention and the reader’s attention are drawn to the mix of daily life and harvest festival duties. The horribles, as Jake thinks of them, steep like tea half forgotten on a back burner and, as the story moves toward its unexpected ending, grows all the stronger and more foul tasting for the wait.

Parade of Horribles is the seventh book in the “Hooch Series.” As we saw in earlier novels such as Cathead Crazy and Mama’s Comfort Food, this very Southern author deftly captures the way people in her panhandle world think, talk, work, support each other–and, yes–gossip about what’s in plain sight and what’s not yet apparent to everyone else. Residents of the Florida Panhandle know that in many ways it’s a country unto itself, not like south Georgia and even further and farther removed from the snowbirds and tourist destinations of the peninsula.

Reading DeVane’s Hooch Series is an immersion into this country; Parade of Horribles is wonderful mystery/thriller and a highly recommended addition to a body of work that makes “the other Florida” and “Florida’s forgotten coast” altogether real and impossible to forget.

Malcolm