Sunday, May 27, 2012

Book Review: Starting and Closing by John Smoltz and Calico Joe by John Grisham

John Smoltz will be signing copies of "Starting and Closing" on Saturday from 12:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. at Schuler Books and Music, 2820 Towne Center Blvd. Eastwood Towne Center, Lansing. This is a limited, ticketed event, with tickets available free, but only with a purchase of the book. Reservations may be made by phone at (517) 316-7495. Smoltz will not be signing memorabilia.____________________________________________________________

The baseball season is now in full swing - maybe it's time to pick up the latest books on the subject - in fact and fiction.

"Starting and Closing" by Lansing Waverly High School grad John Smoltz (William Morrow, $26.99) is an interesting biography of the former All Star Atlanta braves pitcher.

Subtitled "Perseverance, Faith and One More year", the biography of the Cy Young Award winner is co-written with best-selling sports author Don Yaeger.

It covers the All Star pitcher's long career in a non-linear fashion, including his signing by the Detroit Tigers after he was chosen in the 22nd round of the 1985 free-agent draft.

It relates his true emotions when he was traded to the Atlanta Braves in 1987 for Doyle Alexander and details his quick rise to playing major league baseball.

The biography deals with a wide variety of subjects, including the importance of his Christian faith and how it helped him survive the pressures of pitching in the major leagues. Golf also plays an important role, allowing him to relax off field and release stress.

The best part of the book is the 16-page section of mostly color photographs, which showcase Smoltz's early Lansing baseball career, assorted family members and later noteworthy achievements.

Unfortunately, Smoltz doesn't really go into much detail about his baseball experiences in Lansing, other than just providing basic facts.

He does detail his later painful arm problems and pitching difficulties, when he switched from starting to relieving and back again.

This isn't really a tell-all book about baseball. It relays minimal intriguing inside information, but explores attitudinal challenges that he faced in his many seasons as an exceptional baseball player.

Smoltz finished his career with the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. He's currently a sportscaster for the Atlanta braves and is chairman of King's Ridge Christian School in Atlanta.

"Calico Joe" by best-selling author John Grisham (Doubleday, $24.95) is considerably more enjoyable, but it's not the usual type of legal thriller that Grisham's made famous.

It's a fictional account of the meteoric rise and short memorable career of "Calico Joe" Castle, who played for the Chicago Cubs in 1973.

The bittersweet tale is told from the viewpoint of the son of a New York Mets pitcher. While parts of the novel are predictable, it's still great fun. Grisham's overall enthusiasm for the sport shines through; the conclusion is both memorable and touching.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop,
is a diehard Detroit Tigers fan and has reviewed books regularly since 1987.
This review was originally published by the
Lansing State Journal on Sunday, May 27, 2012.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Driven by James Sallis

Crime novelist James Sallis is back with a tight, taut sequel to his adrenaline-charged novel, "Drive", a 2011 cult movie favorite.

"Driven" (Poisoned Pen Press, Hardback $19.95, Paperback $11.95) again showcases his tough anti-hero known simply as Driver.

He's no longer an expert stunt driver or getaway driver; instead he's got a good business going in Arizona. He fixes up classic cars and rents them to Hollywood studios. He's now using a new name, Paul West, trying to forget his criminal past.

It all goes sour on the first page, when two assailants attack Driver and his fiancee on a Saturday morning. Driver kills them both, but his fiancee dies as well.

When others start to follow him, Driver realizes there's good reason for his paranoia. He goes underground with the help of his buddy Felix, a hard-boiled Desert Storm veteran.

The body count rises as more thugs pursue Driver; soon the tables are turned: he becomes the aggressor trying to find out who's after him - and why.

Driver is certainly not your average good guy/hero; his controlled violence is barely harnessed as he moves quickly and with deadly force.

Sallis smoothly uses flashbacks to reveal character strengths and flaws, offering brief insights into their past and present situations.

Don't be fooled by the short length of this dark sequel - it packs a powerful punch. In only 147 pages, the author's sharply chiseled prose works exceptionally well. Other authors are guilty of telling lesser stories in a considerably longer format, but with Sallis, you're in very good hands.

He's the author of the dark, highly acclaimed Lew Griffin series, but has also written poetry, essays and collections of short stories. Sallis has published three books on musicology as well as the definitive biography of Chester Himes.

While it's best to first read "Drive" (Mariner, $12.95), to get a better understanding of the characters and their motivations, it's not essential.

Moviegoers, who may have caught the award-winning film version of the first book, starring Ryan Gosling, are likely to grab this to see if Stallis still has his masterful noir touch. He does - "Driven" is a delicious treat for those seeking dark, superb escapism.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, 
has reviewed Crime novels and dark thrillers regularly since 1987.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, May 21, 2012.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: John Sandford's Stolen Prey

"Stolen Prey", by John Sandford (Putnam $27.95), is the 22nd book in his exceptionally popular series starring Lucas Davenport, head of the Minneapolis Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

But if you're thinking twice about picking up a novel that's late in the series - don't worry - it works well as a stand-alone novel for the uninitiated. It's scheduled for release on Tuesday.

Sandford, the pseudonym for Pulitzer Prize winning former journalist John Camp, has written another excellent, mesmerizing tale that'll keep you anxiously flipping pages.

This is a solid police procedural mystery, with a touch of humor thrown in; it opens with Davenport getting robbed at gunpoint by meth addicts after withdrawing $500 from an ATM. He's got no gun, no phone and he's injured; he vows revenge.

Soon he's involved in a grisly case where an entire family has been slaughtered in their home, including two kids and three dogs.

This isn't your typical crime scene; investigators feel that drugs are likely to be involved and Mexican gang members are the killers.

Davenport and his crew look at the background of the victim, who'd produced and marketed Spanish language computer software.

A Mexican police officer and his assistant arrive on the scene; they provide useful gang and drug-related information, offering fresh insights into the gruesome murders.

Sandford's novel gets considerably more complicated from there; there are other clever criminals on the scene and they're on the run, struggling for survival.

There are numerous information leaks and Davenport's puzzled; more lives are in danger until he puts together well-hidden relevant observations.

While there are plots elements similar to Chris Pavone's "The Expats", Sandford's tale is much more violent and realistic, with strong characterization and unexpected plot twists.

Sandford's plotting works well on a variety of levels - his taut, suspenseful conclusion is both riveting and satisfying.

Virgil Flowers, the hero of five other Sandford novels, assists in solving Davenport's initial robbery case, getting results in a typical, highly unusual manner.

The best-selling author and hard-working Davenport shows no signs of slowing down; if you haven't discovered them yet, you're in for a real treat!
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop,
has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, May 13, 2012.


Monday, May 7, 2012

SPOOKY STUFF IS AFOOT IN THE U.P. (Book Review: A Cold Winter's Deathe by Mark Wolfgang)

Mark Wolfgang will be signing books on Saturday from 2-4 PM at
Bestsellers Books and Coffee, 360 S. Jefferson St. Mason.
Expect the unexpected in the latest book by Mason author Mark Wolfgang.

"A Cold Winter's Deathe" (Sudden Deathe Press, $12.95) is a slim, attractively designed, self-published paperback that's the second in his unusual "Yoopernatural Mystery" series.

The intriguing sequal to "Bedderhoff Dead" is strangely fascinating, as it features a variety of oddball characters placed in bizarre situations.

Set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Wolfgang's novels are completely different from other more familiar writers who use the same locale, such as Robert Traver, Steve Hamilton or Joseph Heywood.

The action takes place in the middle of winter in the fictional village of Deathe. The main character, Ron Blank, an electrician at the local junior college, thinks he's seeing things when he spots a small "invisible man" stealing drinks at the local bar.

It gets even stranger when Blank gets into a major confrontation in the bar with Carl Rowley, the hulking town bully.

Michigan State Police Trooper Alice Louise Dubose, who's trapped in the area due to a blinding snowstorm, is initially of little help. The "invisible man" turns out to be a visiting vampire hunter; soon Blank accompanies him to a local cemetery in search of answers.

Blank, who's restoring a derelict huge old mansion, the Cavendish Manor, has problems of his own. He's staying at a rooming house in town, where he encounters Julianna, a mysterious beautiful woman who's new to the area.

Wolfgang's tale gets more complicated as a related death occurs; Dubose discovers more unnerving information and other odd paranormal events take place.

The vampire hunter has hidden motives and unusual weapons; there's lots of dangerous snowmobile action. Dubose joins the town's sheriff in investigating the disappearance of a corpse; she has a battle with a giant, deadly "Masticator".

The reader is likely to get a hint of the scope of the uniqueness of this book by catching the long disclaimer on the back of the title page that notes: "...No resemblance to any real person, living , dead, undead, incorporeal, spiritual, metaphysical, unhinged, hinged or otherwise familiar to the reader is purely unintentional. They might, however be conglomerations of people and traits..."

At least two more books in this series are planned; more information is available at the author's website:

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop,
has reviewed crime novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal
on Sunday, May 6, 2012.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Curiousities Newsletter for May 2012

Greetings from Curious!
This month, stop in and receive 30% OFF items in the following sections:
Art & Art History
Arts & Crafts
Antiques & Collectables
This sale ends on May 31st.

Curious is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. Sundays, noon - 5 p.m.
Shop News:
New Acquisitions include a selection of works in psychology and philosophy;
plenty of general fiction paperback novels; manga; classic science fiction and fantasy 
novels in paperback and hardcover; cookbooks; beautifully illustrated books
for children and a vast array of astronomy, physics, natural history and biology books!
Also new to the store are a selection of Buddhist, zen and meditation books, as well as
 hard-to-find paperback mysteries by Erle Stanley Gardner,
and books by Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Stephen King, Richard Brautigan,
William Faulkner, Georgette Heyer, Edith Wharton and more!
Our BRAND NEW section includes books by Jonathan Franzen, Stephen King,
E.L. James, Christopher Moore, Rachel Maddow, and Geroge R.R. Martin.
Are you a movie buff? Many new and classic movies were inspired by books!
Stop in and see what we have related to your favorite movie, as well as upcoming
blockbusters like Dark Shadows, The Avengers, Star Trek, Spider-man,
The Hunger Games, Titanic, John Carter and Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Community Events:
The 49th East Lansing Art Festival, one of the biggest and best
fine art festivals in the nation, will be held in Downtown East Lansing
on May 19th and 20th.
To celebrate, Curious will expand out our
front door and onto the sidewalk!  For more information:
The thirty-fourth annual Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair will be held
at the Michigan Union, in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Sunday, May 20th.
Come spend the day at one of our favorite book events, where you'll find
fabulous rare and antiquarian books and paper items from the past few centuries!
Curious will be in attendance, as will a selection of the area's finest book dealers.
Be sure to stop by our booth and say hello!
Show Hours: 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. 
Admission: $5.00
For more information:
Classicon 41, a Collectable Paperback, Pulp, Comic & Glamour Art Show
This great show features thousands of collectable comics, pulp magazines, digests,
paperbacks novels and iconic pop culture items available for sale or trade.
Join us on Saturday, June 9th at the University Quality Inn, 3121 E. Grand River Ave, Lansing.
Located just off US 127 at exit 78, near the Frandor shopping plaza.
Show Hours: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Admission: $3.00. Free Parking!
Are you interested in exhibiting? A limited amount of vendor space is available.
For more information please contact the Curious Book Shop (
Do you love book shows? Mark your calendar for
the 56th Michigan Antiquarian Book & Paper Show,
to be held at the Lansing Center on Sunday, October 7, 2012!
Literary Birthdays:
May 1st: Joseph Heller, Terry Southern
May 3rd: Niccolo Machiavelli
May 5th: Karl Marx, Leo Lionni
May 8th: Thomas Pynchon, Edmund Wilson, Gary Snyder
May 9th: J.M. Barrie, Richard Adams, Alan Bennett
May 11th: Stanley Elkin
May 13th: Daphne Du Maurier, Armistead Maupin
May 15th: L. Frank Baum, Paul Zindel, Katherine Anne Porter
May 16th: Studs Terkel, Bruce Coville
May 18th: Bertrand Russell, Diane Duane
May 21st: Dante Alighieri
May 22nd: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Peter Matthiessen
May 25th: Theodore Roethke, Raymond Carver, Jamaica Kincaid
May 27th: John Cheever, Herman Wouk, Tony Hillerman, Rachel Carson
May 28th: Ian Fleming
May 29th: G.K. Chesterton, T.H. White
May 31st: Walt Whitman

"Be curious, not judgmental." - Walt Whitman
We appreciate your continued support of our independent East Lansing book shop!
We will celebrate our 43rd anniversary later this year.
Many thanks,
Ray, Audrey and the Curious Gang
P.S. : We are currently interested in buying: Choose Your Own Adventure paperbacks, Oz or Nancy Drew hardbacks, any books (paperback or hardback) by Kurt Vonnegut, J.D. Salinger, Charles Bukowksi, Abbie Hoffman, Hunter S. Thompson, Philip K. Dick, and Ayn Rand, as well as science fiction/fantasy paperbacks and hardbacks, Philosophy and Eastern religious books.
                                          Please call to set up an appointment! Thanks!
If you would like to be added to the Curious Book Shop mailing list, please write us at We hope to hear from you soon!