20Sep/17

Why Quit Reading?

Lately the pile on my bedside table is so tall it’s toppling, and even my tablet can’t remember what e-book I was halfway through. As the SF Public Library’s annual Fall Big Book Sale looms, it’s time to winnow . . . and wonder what tips the scale from “keep reading” to “let it go.” Here are a couple of books I liked but just didn’t finish.

Death Comes for the ArchbishopDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

I love plots, and this limpid lucid book has none. It’s fascinating if you’re in a mood to slow life’s hectic pace to a crawl and let your gaze linger over long stretches of Southwestern landscape, traveling by mule or foot with two French clerics dispatched to secure Catholicism’s grip on pre-U.S. New Mexico. I enjoyed as much of it as I read, but didn’t find it compelling enough to look forward to at day’s end. Tipping point: my old copy is literally falling to pieces.

The Strange Files of Fremont Jones (Fremont Jones, #1)The Strange Files of Fremont Jones by Dianne Day

A charming, compelling voice gets this novel off to a zippy start. Once under way, though, I began to suspect that her narrator’s voice and a few plot ideas were all Dianne Day had planned. In 1905, rebellious bluestocking Caroline Fremont Jones flees Boston for San Francisco, drops “Caroline,” and sets up as a typist. Excellent premise! However . . . Another reviewer has compared Day to Sue Grafton; I agree in that both authors meander and vamp, as if they’re not sure which way to steer their narrators. Fremont Jones vacillates much more than Kinsey Millhone: sometimes she’s a take-charge amateur detective, sometimes a rather limp romantic heroine, sometimes a bystander in a Poe tale. The pre-quake San Francisco setting is dotted with just enough anachronisms to put me off (“mom and dad”? no formalities between ladies and gentlemen? and the big sex scene is a Harlequin classic); and by midway through the story, suspense–alas!–had dissipated.

Ascension Day Part 2 of 2Ascension Day Part 2 of 2 by John Matthews

This book is well written and fast paced enough to keep me reading (a freebie from BookBub) while I traveled. But once I stopped, I realized I wasn’t learning anything from these characters or this story, and I haven’t picked it up again. Too many mysteries and thrillers out there — too little reading time!

View all my reviews

To share this post, click below. To follow me for news on books & events, click the Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed icon at top right.
Share
10Sep/17

Free e-book! ZAPPED: An Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery

Like mysteries? Try ZAPPED!

Thanks to Authors’ Marketing Club and Book Funnel, you can get a free e-copy of ZAPPED: An Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery (while supplies last). Here’s the deal: Click this link, download and read the book, then write an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads. Short or long, it doesn’t matter. But start the wheels turning now — the freebies are almost gone.

Enjoy!

To share this post, click below. To follow me for news on books & events, click the Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed icon at top right.
Share
07Jul/17

Taking Alcatraz, Part 2

From November 20, 1969, to June 11, 1971, the island of Alcatraz was occupied by San Francisco Bay Area Indians who claimed it by right of discovery. (See Taking Alcatraz, Part 1.) When the California Historical Society hosted a showing of John Ferry and Grace De Soto’s film Taking Alcatraz on June 15, 2017, it also hosted a reunion. The second half of this collaboration between CHS and the New Museum Los Gatos (NUMU) was a panel discussion of occupiers and supporters. As hugs, handshakes, and a few teary eyes testified, some of them hadn’t seen each other in decades.

Stories emerged at CHS that were news to many of us in the overflow audience. Filmmakers Ferry and DeSoto and photographer Hartmann reconstructed the occupation, and the events that led up to it and followed it, in a series of interviews with spearhead Adam Fortunate Eagle and other participants. Hartmann’s extensive photographs are on view at NUMU (see also www.ilkahartmann.com). As described in my previous post, the occupation built from a small group of Sioux, to a larger multitribal group formed in response to a judge’s rejection of their original claim, to a 19-month live-in force of 79. That number fluctuated over time. Opponents claimed that commitment gradually dwindled. As the occupiers recalled it, reality intervened: commitment remained strong, but students had to go back to school, and other responsibilities called people away.

images from http://burymyart.tumblr.com/post/103187682673/native-american-activists-occupy-alcatraz-island

The U.S. government, mainly in the form of the Coast Guard, struggled from the start to remove the Indians from the island. Water, electricity, and phone service were cut off. So the occupiers lived in the guards’ quarters, where they had water and a generator. Food was ferried over by a crew of supporters, which grew along with popular awareness and support. Herb Caen ran regular updates; Creedence Clearwater Revival donated a boat. One skipper and panelist, Mary Crowley, was part of the original fleet that had transported the Indians to the island under cover of night, without lights.

Panelist Alan Harrison, a tribal member of the Robinson Rancheria, California “Pomo” Native American tribe on the banks of Clear Lake in Lake County, was one of the youngest occupiers at age eight or nine. His memories included playing with the toys donated by Mattel. Even younger was baby Wovoca Trudell, named for a Paiute religious leader, delivered on “liberated land” by Dr. Larry Brilliant when expectant mother Lou Trudell refused to leave.

Panelist Eloy Martinez, involved from the outset, recalled sailing over with the second party of occupiers and living on the island for seven months. He remained involved in civil rights, working with Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, among others. Actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather could only join the occupation on weekends. She’d been studying with Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto on The Lone Ranger TV series and ran the Indian Actors’ Studio.

“Everything about it felt right,” Mary Crowley summarized. “It was a peaceful, positive action. . . . A lot of good came from Alcatraz.”

To share this post, click below. To follow me for news on books & events, click the Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed icon at top right.
Share
15Jun/17

Taking Alcatraz, Part 1

The Summer of Love and Monterey Pop aren’t the only anniversaries San Francisco is celebrating. Last night a standing-room-only crowd at the California Historical Society had the rare treat of watching John and Grace De Soto Ferry’s 2015 film Taking Alcatraz, followed by some riveting personal recollections from the filmmakers and the participants.

Around 50 years ago, as Adam Fortunate Eagle tells it onscreen, the Bay Area’s diverse Native Americans yearned for a stronger sense of heritage than they and their children were getting from assimilation. Spurred partly by the Civil Rights movement, partly by the U.S. government’s neglect of its treaty obligations, they started working more and more collectively. When a local Indian center was destroyed by fire, and the feds declared Alcatraz Island and its abandoned prison to be surplus property, they remembered the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) between the U.S. and the Sioux. That treaty returned to Native peoples all retired, abandoned and out-of use federal lands.

First a few Sioux took a boat out, swam to shore, and claimed the island. The feds contended that if any Indians had any right to Alcatraz, it wasn’t the Sioux. So the next foray included members of more tribes. This time the claimants issued a proclamation:

We, the native Americans, re-claim the land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery. We wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with the Caucasian inhabitants of this land, and hereby offer the following treaty: We will purchase said Alcatraz Island for 24 dollars in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man’s purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago. We know that $24 in trade goods for these sixteen acres is more than was paid when Manhattan Island was sold, but we know that land values have risen over the years.

On November 20, 1969, 79 Native Americans began a 19-month occupation of Alcatraz. They wound up living mainly in the guards’ quarters, after water and electricity were cut off to the other buildings. Creedence Clearwater Revival donated a boat; individuals and restaurants donated food. Dr. Larry Brilliant, who offered medical assistance, delivered a baby for John and Lou Trudell when Lou insisted their child be born on liberated Native American land. Herb Caen used his popular column in the Chronicle to keep San Franciscans informed. When he polled support for the occupation vs. the Coast Guard’s persistent attempts to end it, the occupiers won 80 to 20.

The government’s antagonistic response seems to have been softened by Vietnam-beleaguered President Richard Nixon. He halted the objectionable federal policy of removing (by carrot and/or stick) Indians from their reservations to eight designated cities, and met enough of the occupiers’ other terms that they agreed to leave the island. Although some accounts state that they were forcibly removed, participant Sacheen Littlefeather and other speakers at the June 15 joint presentation by CHS and New Museum Los Gatos saw it differently. They accepted a swap: Alcatraz (which suddenly was no longer surplus, but a major potential tourist attraction) for 200 acres of land near Davis, CA. There the Native Americans created DeganawidahQuetzalcoatl University (DQU), a two-year college from which students could go on to complete a four-year degree at UC Davis.

More on this historic turning point coming soon in Part 2.

 

 

To share this post, click below. To follow me for news on books & events, click the Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed icon at top right.
Share

Did not read the book, but LOVE the box!

To share this post, click below. To follow me for news on books & events, click the Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed icon at top right.
Share
12May/17

Coming in May: ANOTHER NUMBER FOR THE ROAD a Cory Goodwin Mystery

Remember the Summer of Love? What cooler way to celebrate 50 years since the Human Be-In, peace love & flowers, and Monterey Pop than with the new Cory Goodwin mystery?

When legendary guitarist Dan Quasi reunites Boston’s top 60s rock-protest band for an upscale exchange program, Cory wants to know why. A free trip to Paris? A new revolution? Or cover for murdering his vocalist?

Boom-Books is rushing the publication date to have ANOTHER NUMBER FOR THE ROAD out in time for the Bay Area Book Festival (Sunday, June 4) and the North Beach Festival (Saturday & Sunday, June 17-18). Come find us there, or pick up a copy after May 19 on Amazon.

 

To share this post, click below. To follow me for news on books & events, click the Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed icon at top right.
Share
04May/17

Escape from Fiction: Lunch at the Beach

Day 3 of a heat wave. Why I love San Francisco, #6: I can clear my head with a long lunch break — set aside book-cover design, music credits, and marketing strategies to zip out to Ocean Beach for a Chino’s burrito and a walk in the hot sun and chilly sea. Three other beaches are closer, but the road to this one runs through a flower-speckled, eucalyptus-scented park, along a clifftop above the Golden Gate, to a wide stretch of sand where there’s nothing but water between me and Japan.

Or, usually there isn’t. Today the horizon’s encrusted with a rim of white, as if a glacial island had drifted in to block sea traffic. That’s the famous San Francisco fog massing offshore to invade the bay. Splashing into the shallows below the Cliff House and Sutro Park, I can feel its chilly breath. I look south and see an unexpected vagueness, a blurry octopus-arm of fog reaching across the scorching sand. People stroll into it and disappear.

Tra-la, it’s May! A lusty month for sand crabs, evidently, as well as for songwriters. Desiccated shells and legs spatter the high-tide line. Gulls fly, swoop, dive, and do their flat-footed Charlie Chaplin waddle through the foam, waiting to snatch whatever the next wave brings in. Each wave launches a flurry of scuttling as beached crabs dig for safety, or, failing, roll over and over toward the undertow. When I reach the Disappearing Fog Zone, I look down at my feet and see thousands of tiny semi-transparent baby crabs in the swirling water.

For half a minute I stop walking, to avoid stepping on them. But nature is profligate with life. Whether it’s green grass or wet sand under our bare feet, we’re always squashing something.

Nature also is profligate with beauty. The sand dollar I pick up (is it alive, to be thrown back? — no, let this bleached shell lie, a find for some other treasure-hunter) awes me with the delicately etched five-petaled design on its back; but to the gull behind me, that’s just a wrapper to rip off in search of a meal.

As humans discover that animals communicate, feel emotions, form social groups, make tools, and cross one wall after another that we thought separated us, is our appreciation of beauty the last frontier?

What about creativity? Writing, for instance?

I left my cat curled up in a rocking chair and my characters safely stowed in a French hotel room. Now I can feel someone’s breath on my neck. Not the cat. Two lovers are following me down this beach. She’s recalling something he told her in Paris: It always clears my head to be in San Francisco. Is that happening now? His eyes, hidden by sunglasses, gaze at the green-glass waves rising and then crashing into a champagne froth. Is he thinking of his friend who was bludgeoned to death long ago with a bottle of Dom Perignon? Or wondering why no surfers are out today? They pass a bevy of maidens — as common to beaches as gulls — who pretend to be scared of the water, daring and teasing, shrieking when a wave sneaks up and licks their feet. Across the sand on the inland side, pink flowers cascade down a fake-rock cliff face, under a waxing gibbous moon which floats in the baby-blue sky like a Portuguese man-of-war.

In about two minutes she will pick up a piece of shell sculpted into the shape of a gull, and carry it over to a pool where she can rinse off the sand. He’ll wait for her, until the unforgettable moment when she reaches over a log left by last night’s bonfire revelers and discovers —

 

To share this post, click below. To follow me for news on books & events, click the Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed icon at top right.
Share
27Apr/17

Book Review: Carmen Amato’s Cliff Diver, an Acapulco Mystery

Cliff Diver (Emilia Cruz Mysteries, #1)Cliff Diver by Carmen Amato
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable, fast-paced police procedural set in Acapulco, starring the department’s first and only female detective. Emilia Cruz is a workaholic who lives with her charming but slightly confused mother. Emilia’s partner is the only member of the squad willing to work with a woman; a bit possessive, Rico warns off every man who comes near her. That includes Kurt Rucker, the magnetic owner of a luxury hotel where a car scam may have originated which soon links to a kidnapping, a counterfeit money racket, and a possible conspiracy between a cartel and local authorities. Carmen Amato deftly weaves Emilia’s professional, domestic, and romantic challenges into a vivid, compelling mystery. Small personal touches morph adroitly into clues. Unlike a lot of procedurals where police corruption distorts every investigation, this one stays realistic about it; corruption is an obstacle, but not an artificial hobble to pad the plot or turn the characters into victims. At one or two points, plausibility slipped a notch, but on the whole I was sorry when the book ended, and I look forward to reading another one.

View all my reviews

To share this post, click below. To follow me for news on books & events, click the Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed icon at top right.
Share
05Apr/17

Of Chuck Berry, JS Bach, Derek Walcott, & Miranda’s Hamilton – Pt 1

I suspect the reason I was named Carol is that my grandfather was born on Christmas. When he and my grandmother had their first child, they called her Jane Carol. And when she and my father had their first child, they switched it around for me.

The good side of that was: Christmas. I loved having a whole genre of music with my name on it. On the not so good side, growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, I was drowned in grim sentimental stories like A Christmas Carol. For some reason they all featured crippled or dying children. The worst one was about a saintly girl named Carol Bird who spent Christmas being kind to the poor and then flew up to heaven.

I was rescued by Chuck Berry. His Carol was no dying angel. “I got my eye on you baby cause you dance so good!” I first saw him play my freshman year of college, in a club-sized venue at an Amherst College party weekend. Talk about dance so good — it was like watching somebody sing, play virtuoso guitar, and do gymnastics at the same time. I stayed for both shows. I went to see him again many years later, a little scared he’d have slowed down. Not a chance.

By then I wasn’t listening for “Carol” as much as “Roll Over Beethoven.” Looking back, that was an early warning shot from my generation to my parents’ generation: The times they are a-changin’.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday was three days after Chuck Berry died on March 18, and I couldn’t help thinking, Bach was kind of the Chuck Berry of his time. The pioneer who mastered the musical form of the day so brilliantly that it looked easy, and people thought, Oh, yeah, Bach, until other musicians realized how good he was and started stealing his chops. In Chuck Berry’s case that was the Brits, who weren’t blinded by the same prejudices as Americans. Two young Englishmen met on a train because Keith Richards saw that Mick Jagger was carrying a Chuck Berry album. It was like a signal. They’d both been listening obsessively to this radical new American music, figuring it out, teaching themselves how to play it. Once they got together, they recorded some of it and copied some of it, and got rich and famous. So did the Beatles. That made Chuck Berry more rich and famous, and helped keep him not just a star but a working musician to the age of 90.

So you could say, Chuck Berry launched the British Invasion, which launched the full-scale American musical revolution  — and swiveled the spotlight back to where it started, with unforgettable moments like this one, when Chuck Berry and Keith Richards join forces on “Carol.”

Part 2 of this post, which originated as the April 2 meditation for the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, appears on my publisher’s website, Boom-Books.com.

To share this post, click below. To follow me for news on books & events, click the Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed icon at top right.
Share