Cruising the Green of Second Avenue

Wild Child Publishing has issued the second volume of short stories in Cruising the Green of Second Avenue. The tales take up where Vol. I left off — bringing back Klein the Biker, Straight Charlie and Sammy the Madman while introducing new characters stumbling over life’s difficulties in the late 60s. Vol. II is an e-book published by Wild Child Publishing that you can download, save as a pdf (Adobe) file and print. Read both volumes and see that life isn't all that serious. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online book sellers.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Thumbnail Reviews for 2011

I review books feeling like the guy who says, “I know you’re really going to like [insert title or author].” Well, dammit, I like the books and want others to share my happiness! The reviews have gone up on Amazon and B&N, and on Roberta Stuhr’s site, Favorite Books and Book Review (

Here, then are seven thumbnail reviews of 2011 that were published in Book Editor Anne Bendheim's "Tell Us What You're Reading" column in the Asbury Park Press:

Fur-Face by Jon Gibb is an e-book for young adults that will also fascinate older adults. A young boy, a newcomer to the English countryside is confronted by a talking cat, who — like his friend Razor the fox — has been part of a mind control program. Challenges confronting him include a secret deal with Russians, concerned parents, nefarious scientists, and secret tunnels under the animal park. And a budding infatuation with a young girl.

Pirate Latitudes was a manuscript discovered after Michael Crichton died in 2008. It’s a rousing good page-turner in the tradition of Treasure Island and Pirates of the Caribbean. Capt. Hunter is technically a privateer who learns a Spanish galleon filled with treasure is being repaired in a fortified harbor. He assembles a crew with the Governor’s blessing to hijack it. Along the way, all of the mishaps and conquests possible — shipwrecks, imprisonment as a pirate, battles —confront Hunter and his misbegotten crew.

Who knew my favorite meteorologist is also a writer of whodunits? The Morning Show Murders, first of Roker’s three published novels, concerns the death of Billy Blessing’s TV show producer who’s been poisoned by food from Blessing’s restaurant. Worse yet, the Manhattan DA closes Blessing’s restaurant and the new exec suspends Blessing from the Morning Show. Blessing has to become a sleuth to find the murderer. It’s a rollicking, fast-paced mystery, filled with New York’s sights, sounds and personalities. Follow up this one with “The Midnight Show Murders” and “The Talk Show Murders.”

Fascinated by Caleb Carr’s treatment of 19th century forensic psychiatry in The Alienists and Angel of Darkness, I continue to search out this author. In The Italian Secretary, Carr takes Sherlock Holmes and Watson to Scotland. A pair of murders at a castle being restored leads Holmes to suspect Queen Victoria is next, her demise orchestrated by the German Kaiser, Scottish nationalists—or even the ghost associated with Mary, Queen of Scots.

With Mexico’s drug battles in today’s news, Arturo Pérez-Reverte gives us a literary backstory to a Latina who becomes The Queen of the South. Theresa, girlfriend of a narco pilot, gets a call warning that if this special phone ever rings, he’s dead and the narcos are coming for her. Theresa flees to Spain, surviving over the next 12 years by building one of the biggest drug rings in the Mediterranean. She’s one tough woman in a man’s world, and you have to love even the bad guys.

John le Carre’s A Most Wanted Man follows a Turkish Muslim boxer who unknowingly takes in a medical student. The book shows us the post 9/11 rivalries of spy agencies in three countries as we learn the student is actually the terrorist son of a Red Army colonel with a mysterious bank account. This may be le Carre’s best work — and most humanistic. John le Carre is a “must-read” author.

Dennis Lehane delivers horrifying insights into 1918 Boston with The Given Day. After the Great War and influenza epidemic, but before the ‘20s began roaring, police officer Danny Coughlin has to contend with leading a strike, mayhem from his policeman godfather, anarchist terror, and unrequited love for the Coughlin family maid. Lehane, author of “Mystic River,” has written a terrifying novel of Boston’s large-scale rioting, families torn asunder by pride, Bolshevik bombers, and wanton murders.

I know you’re really gonna like them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fool Me Once, Shame on You

Now I’m mad! Barnes & Noble rejected my review of Thomas Matthews novel, Rejection. Nameless moderators said, “Your Review is no longer visible by others because it contains inappropriate language which violates our Terms of Use. If you update your content, it will be reconsidered by our moderators within three business days. This message will be removed when your content is approved.”

The trouble is, there’s no apparent way to “update the content.” This Kafka-esque situation gives me no alternative but to post the review to Amazon. There , that’s done. But while waiting for that review to be approved, here’s an advance look at my review of a one-star novel….

I downloaded Rejection for my Nook on the basis of a Facebook friendship, several ecstatic reviews that now seem highly suspect, a bias toward new writers, and a love of the detective/mystery genre.

This is the first time I’ve been upset by a carelessly edited, poorly written, badly researched, clichéd novel. My disappointment wouldn’t have been so deep if I hadn’t just finished Pete Hamill’s Tabloid City and Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day. In contrast, both are richly textured, almost literary works whose focal point is crime. Rejection is a potboiler.

The saddest sticking point is that Matthews has given us “Malcolm,” an invented borough of New York City. Please! NYC has five distinctive boroughs, and none of them are 19th century hamlets. New York has a Delancey St., but none spelled without the “e”. (Check your city guide, Mr. Matthews.) And for a police writer to refer to “Dunkin’ Doughnuts” is unforgiveable (as much a calumny as his having overweight African-American women cops reaching orgasm over doughnuts). The lack of editing goes right on through a major character named Smythe being referred to as Smyth.

It’s dangerous to try describing a place you don’t know. For example, “Avenue of the Americas [New Yorkers call it Sixth Avenue] stretches out like the movie set of a quintessential New York landscape. Here [sic] business and commerce embrace the swirling lifestyle of the printed word. The place is lousy with magazines, book publishers and high rent offices, all connected by text messages, phone lines and power emails that jump from one side of the concrete canyon to the others.” Aside from the geographic invention, I defy anyone to make sense of this paragraph.

I think Matthews has never met a punctuation rule he didn’t ignore. It’s common to find commas missing after an interjection, periods missing in sentences, and often entire words missing in a simple declarative sentence. My proofreader would have characterized this work as a “dog’s breakfast.” Jerry Shapiro, the publisher, says it on p. 330, “I’ve looked at some of these [POD] books and the covers look good, but inside is a nightmare of bad writing, misspelled words and poor editing. It makes the heart weep.”

Somehow, the entire strength of this mystery lies in the fact that literary agents are being murdered in gratuitous venal ways. (No spoiler alert, but the case is resolved 50 pages from the ending.) Is this a case of Matthews transferring his own professional problems onto his stock characters? If this is the situation, there should be a “Predators and Editors” Web site warning agents against amateur writers who self-publish.

The rejection of this book lies not only in the title. As Shapiro the publisher says, “It makes my heart weep.”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

2011, That’s a Wrap

As I wrote in my Christmas letter to far-flung relatives, this has been a fulfilling but uneventful year, and there’s much to be said for the lack of drama. No hospital emergencies, no tragedies, no unforeseen circumstances.

What I did make happen was to bring 10 short stories to life in print and online (two more slated for 2012), nine commentaries and reviews, and six humor pieces. I feel proud to have had seven thumbnail book reviews carried in the Asbury Park Press, and want to take some small credit for keeping this column by Book Editor Anne Bendheim alive when her submissions dried up.

Of those short stories, Bill Olver of Pulp Fiction has submitted “Misunderstood Identity” for the 5th annual Micro Award program, an annual competition for fiction in under 1,000 words. I feel honored — and all giggly, too, because I’ve loved this story since I read a first draft to a church congregation. In case you missed it, the story is still up at

Throughout the year I managed also to read 28 books. Well, I went through some of them quickly because they were turgid; others weren’t worth archiving and those were downloaded to my Nook. I'll confess I read too muc Ellmore Leonard and Dennis Lehane. I found it tough to read James Ellroy (American Tabloid and The Big Nowhere) because they were so slow and dense and admit that I put them aside. Several harked back to the early 20th century (Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and Norman Springer’s The Blood Ship) and are still viable pieces of writing.

That was the year that was. Nothing dramatic, but very satisfying.