Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ray's Reviews: Gwen Cooper's Love Saves the Day

"Love Saves the Day" by Gwen Cooper (Bantam, $26) isn't the kind of book I normally read. But sometimes I get overloaded from the fast-paced violence of today's thrillers and just want to relax.

The colorful cover art got my attention - with a striking image of a quizzical cat set against an evening backdrop of a towering city.

Cooper is the best-selling author of "Homer's Odyssey," her memorable book about her adoption of an unwanted three-week-old blind cat and their close relationship.

This new release is fiction, offering entertaining escapism that's told mostly from a cat's unique perspective.

Prudence is an emotional three-year-old cat that doesn't know why Sarah, her Most Important Person, isn't around to be with her anymore.

When a neighbor lady comes by to feed Prudence, she appreciates it but wonders where Sarah is. Laura, Sarah's daughter, arrives with her new husband and a pile of empty boxes; the understandably edgy cat doesn't know what to expect.

Taken to a new apartment, Prudence has to make considerable adjustments. She's also trying to train humans, a very challenging task.

Prudence misses Sarah, finding comfort in a dark closet full of boxes of Sarah's stuff, complete with recognizable scents.

Laura, who's a rising corporate attorney, had a complicated relationship with her mother and never knew her father. Sarah was involved in the 1970's New York music scene and owned a used record store.

While most of the novel is told from Prudence's perspective, other chapters offer viewpoints of Laura and even Sarah, providing more background information.

Prudence notes: "It's nice having a human around the house... they're very useful for things like opening cans of food, or cleaning a litterbox, or running a brush over your back when your fur gets too itchy..."

Other colorful insights are likely to make you smile; Prudence is an opinionated cat with her own distinctive voice.

Cooper's latest book deals with a variety of relationships  wise Prudence often reads non-verbal signs that ignorant humans may not correctly interpret.

You don't have to be a cat lover to enjoy "Love Saves the Day," but it'll probably help. It's literary catnip, liable to make you high on feline companionship.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, 
has been reviewing books regularly since 1987. 
He's got two cats: Parker, a black three-year-old and Goldie, 
a 15-year-old orange furball.

Want to read this book?
Get your copy at Curious, a locally-owned independent business!

307 East Grand River Avenue, East Lansing

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, February 24, 2013.


Ray's Reviews: Souviens by Local Author Barbara Darling Saxena

     "Souviens" by local author Barbara Darling Saxena (2 Moon Press, $13.99) is an unusual paperback debut novel that's mostly set in the Lansing area.

     It's a compelling tale that spans decades, alternating chapters that are set in the 1930's and contemporary times.

     A major plot element involves the horrendous Kern Hotel fire of Dec. 11, 1934 in downtown Lansing that claimed the lives of 34 people, including five that were never identified.

     Dr. Dakota Graham has been having nightmares and flashbacks about a fire since she was a child. She gets an unexpected financial windfall and decides to investigate why she was chosen to receive the unusual bequest.

Kerns Hotel Fire, 1934
(photo courtesy Capital Area Library)
     Scenes that are set in the 1930's focus on the relationships of pretty 24-year-old Grace Dunning. She works at the new Bank of Lansing downtown and wants to be a doctor, but faces many challenges.

     Graham is introduced to Dr. Theo Everett, an oddball medical researcher who is out to prove his theory that the experiences of parents can alter the genetic expression of their offspring.

     Dunning is witness to the terrible fire and is actually injured by falling debris; her life is permanently altered by the results of the tragedy.

     The carefully researched, complex thriller is full of intriguing plot twists, with well-developed characters and many unexpected revelations.

     The author deftly uses Lansing area businesses, landmarks and events in her descriptions, adding a nice local touch.

     Saxena, who graduated from Waverly High School, is a family practice physician in Grand Ledge.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, 
has reviewed Michigan books and crime novels regularly since 1987.

Want to read this book?
Get your copy at Curious, a locally-owned independent business!

307 East Grand River Avenue, East Lansing


Friday, February 15, 2013

Ray's Reviews: Ink Trails: Michigan's Famous and Forgotten Authors

Dave Dempsey and Jack Dempsey will be autographing books and talking about writing on Sat. from 2:00 - 4:00 PM at Schuler Books and Music, Meridian Mall, 1982 W. Grand River, Okemos.

     "Ink Trails", by brothers Dave Dempsey and Jack Dempsey, (M.S.U. Press, $19.95), is subtitled "Michigan's Famous and Forgotten Authors".

     It's a captivating look at 19 of our state's most interesting writers, including those who are well known and others who are relatively obscure.

     This well-researched book is long overdue; it's divided into five geographical sections, exploring the careers of diverse literary figures.

     As expected, it offers insights into famous writers as Robert Traver (John D. Voelker), Bruce Catton and Ring Lardner; it also offers background information about relatively obscure Michigan authors and poets such as George Matthew Adams, Carroll Watson Rankin and Eugene Ruggles.

     You won't find Jim Harrison or Elmore Leonard here - the brothers wisely decided not to provide profiles of living authors.

     One chapter is devoted to the influence of Michigan on the careers of playwright Arthur Miller and poets Robert Frost and Jane Kenyon.

     Another chapter explores the writings of poet and historian Carl Sandburg, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, who lived and wrote in Michigan for almost 20 years.

     Well-known poet Theodore Roethke and prolific botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey also had Michigan ties, as did Maritta Wolff and Marguerite Di Agneli.

     The Dempseys include a chapter on best-selling Owosso author James Oliver Curwood, as well as Gwen Frostic, Holling Clancy Holling, Dudley Randall and Will Carleton.

     This volume was selected as one of the year's top Michigan Notable Books. It's ideal for libraries or anyone interested in learning more about our state's great literary history.

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

This review was originally published by 
the Lansing State Journal on February 15, 2013.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ray's Reviews: Suspect by Robert Crais

"Suspect," the latest crime novel by best-selling author Robert Crais (Putnam, $27.95), showcases two new strong characters--and one of them is a dog.

This is something different for Crais, who has written 13 books starring private investigator Elvis Cole and many other highly entertaining tales.

This book introduces Scott James, a Los Angeles cop whose life is dramatically changed when he's severely wounded during a nighttime assault.

His partner Stephanie is killed; although healing, James still has nightmares and flashbacks nine months later.

Maggie, an 85-pound German shepherd, also isn't doing very well. She served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan sniffing explosives. She was badly wounded and a sniper killed her Marine handler.

James doesn't want to take medical retirement; the dog is severely depressed. Both are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder but are still among the walking wounded.

Even though he knows nothing about dogs, James opts for the K9 unit. Soon the pair become an unlikely team--both are "suspect" for fitting in to the unit.

James is determined to track down Stephanie's killer; although he's not a homicide cop, he starts looking into the unsolved case.

He's still seeing a psychiatrist regularly, hoping his flashbacks might reveal clues to the identity of the men responsible.

Intensifying his search, James examines police reports and goes back to the crime scene, discovering new leads and useful information.

The relationship between James and Maggie grows stronger as they slowly begin to adapt to each other; the training continues for both.

James gets help from some others in the department, but there are unexpected results that lead to deadly consequences.

Crais, who attended Michigan State University's Clarion Fantasy and Science Fiction Writer's Workshop, has written a powerful tale that works well on different levels.

Although there's little of Crais's usual dark humor, it's easy to get emotionally involved in this fast-paced crime novel. Crais smoothly alters viewpoints, deftly showing the mindset of the dog from the animal's perspective.

Hollywood film producers have made movies of a number of Crais' books; this novel is prime entertainment material.

This is definitely a book that's not to be missed. It's a fast, enjoyable read that's a top-notch effort by one of America's best crime writers.

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 February 10, 2013.