Tag Archives: Book

Paranormal mystery about a green suitcase was the best suitcase on this vacation

“Everything will be fine.”

On a bit of a vacation, I spent a little time this week with an “everything will be fine” mystery, “The Man With the Green Suitcase” by Dee Doanes. Get it? Vacation? Suitcase?

The green suitcase in question doesn’t carry clothes, swimwear and sandals. Instead, it’s filled with secrets and magic.

Doanes weaves together the stories of several people who cross paths with the man with the green suitcase from the title, and their lives are changed for better and for worse. Though elements of the paranormal move the story along, it’s set in Atlanta and grounded in reality (which appeals to the nonfiction fan in me). Her use of language is evocative, describing simple characters and scenes with piercing similes:

  • “He shakes hands with a man whose big gold rings on his pinky and ring finger feel like brass knuckles.”
  • “Ralph couldn’t be more than thirty, but his face is hard and rough, like it had been dragged on a sidewalk.”
  • “He sits down stiffly, like he’s waiting in a doctor’s office.”

The beauty of the language (“he ages before Gerald’s eyes like dawn creeping into morning” — isn’t that lovely?) carries to the story itself, a story about forgiveness and redemption. Plus, any book with a character who plays Scrabble is a book for me!

I was fascinated by the use of present tense throughout, which is tricky to pull off successfully. The use of present tense effectively creates closeness with the reader. Though time transitions were sometimes cumbersome (“then,” “later”), the writing was vivid and evoked a sense of immediacy. The more I read, the more hooked I became (don’t look for a tidy ending however).

Like me, Doanes is an independent author, too, and I appreciated one of the lessons of her book was similar to mine:

“A big secret is a big burden.”

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And now, a word from our sponsor (as a struggling writer with next to no income right now, I mean this quite literally).

(Listen,  I know you tune into Minnesota Transplant for pictures of my dog, stories of my exploits in the 1983 Pace Arrow and strange recipes, but into every bit of entertainment, a little advertising must fall.)

* * *

Many of you know me as Beloved, Da hubby or Monica Lee’s partner.

I am not a writer, and I promise that you won’t be seeing my writing on much of anything unless you own a company and need insurance coverage. I have a special request! While my beloved, a.k.a. Monica, has a beautiful way of expressing herself and all of you find her writings interesting (I do, too!), I am asking you a favor.

Someone out here in the blog world/friend circle/interested party universe has a connection. What I am asking of you is to take 5 minutes out of your busy day, sit back in your chair and think about who you know. It may be a friend of a friend, your aunt, your minister’s wife or a coworker’s husband. This person knows someone in the media — newspaper, radio or television — that might put “The Percussionist Wife,” Monica Lee’s book in the right hands of that media contact.

All of you know that Monica’s got something special here, and most of you know she’s not one to boast about much of anything. Modesty and warmth are two of her most admirable qualities. Her book is gaining traction, sales are brisk, interviews have started, but it has a resume similar to a new college graduate finding a job: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know to get the job.

I know that one or many of you know someone — that person could help — and I would personally be deeply in debt to you for your help. Monica won’t ask, and I basically forced her to post this on her blog, but I felt compelled to ask. If I could figure out how to do it behind her back I would.

It’s exciting times for her. As I watched her write this book, bring it to the book it is, it was like watching her come to full-term and wash away a painful piece of her past. Her excitement now comes from it becoming popular, the uplifting comments for a job well done and the joy it brings knowing that she’s help someone to review their own life decision and make a change for the better if necessary. I get great joy in being a part of her growth and “the book” has been a big part of our lives during the last couple of years.

Will you please take the moment I ask for and send her a name,an email address or phone number of the person you know.

Gratefully requested, Tyler, a.k.a. Beloved

Cross this fence at your own risk

Zach Abrams’ “Ring Fenced” is like a popcorn action movie — it’s got suspense, but the thrills are supported by a raucous sound track and a lot of hot air.

The book is about Benjamin, a.k.a. Benjie, Ben, Bennie and Jamie, a Londoner with as many secret lives as you can count on your hand. Wholly unlikable in any persona he inhabits, he’s a flashy banker, a fun-weekends father, an obedient Orthodox Jewish son, a porn writer and a motorcycle-wheeling lover surrounded primarily with beautiful but  blind women who know only one side of Benjamin.

Don’t worry, Benjamin gets what’s coming to him. In a way.

No matter what he’s wearing or who he’s fooling, Benjamin appreciates music. While I was familiar with only some of the songs he uses to soothe his inner demons, I imagine his music set the scene as accurately as some of the quoted lyrics.

As for the hot air, I found the book’s descriptions to be like two-thirds of Americans — flabby. Detailed descriptions of banking deals, highway detours and amusement park attractions did nothing to move the plot forward. With a good editor, this self-published book could easily have been one-third shorter. For example, at one point Benjamin, a.k.a. Bennie in this chapter, parks the family car:

“Approaching he realized the position in front had also been vacated and, so as to enable an easy exit, he drove through to the front of the ‘dido’, the acronym his family had taken to applying to a ‘drive in drive out’ space.”

Was an easy exit required later in the story? No. Was “dido” used a metaphor for exiting the jams Benjamin finds himself in? No. It, like many other sentences, was simply a clever waste of space.

If you love metaphor, don’t look for it here. At a crucial plot turn, the author’s rambling descriptions finally run out: “The noise was incredible.” Alas, at the risk of sounding like a syntactical Scrooge, “incredible” is about as descriptive as “amazing,” which topped the 2012 list of words that should be banished from the English language.

While Benjamin was odious and some descriptions superfluous, I wished for more details about his devout mother, his long-suffering wife and his techie American business partner. To me, these were the people whom the story was really about — sorry souls duped by a dissociative sociopath. In particular, Abrams missed a flashing-red-stoplight opportunity for irony in Benjamin’s relationship with his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father, who recognized him in one scene. The man with an impaired memory “knew” him when no one else really did. The scenes with Benjamin’s family of origin rang true, and this American Lutheran found the descriptions of Benjamin’s, aka Benjie’s Jewish faith and practices compelling.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the book is the reader. I don’t like popcorn fiction, and I don’t read for distraction (I use online Scrabble for that). Give me real people caught in surreal but true circumstances anytime.

I read this book on Kobo, as I read all my ebooks lately. But I would have paid half as much on Kindle: Only $1.49.

Mystery mixes menopause, murder and mayhem

A light-hearted romp through murder and mayhem is just thing on a Saturday afternoon.

“Is It Still Murder Even If She Was A Bitch?” by Robin Leemann Donovan begins with the cleverest title for a murder mystery and delivers a fun romp through a murder investigation with sleuth Donna Leigh, a menopausal ad exec who describes herself “about as subtle as a Rolls Royce in the Wal Mart parking lot.” Donna Leigh inserts herself into the investigation of the death of an unlikable former colleague when she fears the police might finger her for the crime. Chaos ensues.

My mother is a bigger fan of detective fiction than I am, but I thought this book might be a light way to while away some time while my Beloved watched episodes of “American Pickers.”

Donovan, the author of the humor blog Menologues, creates a likeable protagonist who copes with food cravings, memory lapses, an all-black wardrobe and hot flashes as much as she handles colorful suspects, including a narcissistic gypsy, a female wrestler and a crazy author stuck in the ’50s. She reminded me a little of an extroverted friend of mine with a short attention span and a compulsion to figure out what makes people tick.

Can Donna save the day and find the killer or will she find herself just another target of the killer who threatens her with Post-It notes scrawled with “Snoops die”?

I wish the “bitch” who was bludgeoned wasn’t a mother killed outside of a Boy Scout dinner, and I struggled with the way the dialogue was punctuated and the bevy of characters whose name started with “C” (Claire, Clovis, Cindy, Clarke), but those are niggles. I appreciated the whodunit suspense and Donovan’s references to the advertising world: “The highlight of my whole day was the jerk who called to say he was from Coke. … Hmmph, thought he could pass himself off as a Coke guy — doesn’t he know I read Ad Age?” and “My face turned about eight different shades of red — I’m guessing it hit about a Pantone 185 Red.”

The ending is as farcical as the investigative tactics so “Is It Still Murder Even If She Was a Bitch” is slapstick that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Perfect for a perfectly peaceful weekend afternoon.

Commencement: Despite the dictionary definition, it’s just an ending

May 31, 1985

Dear Diary,

Commencement was tonight — I spoke. It was great — and worth it. Mrs. Soroko [a former boyfriend’s mother] and Bernie Nelson [a school counselor] were just two of the people who were full of compliments. Afterwards, I went to a ton of open houses.

I got lots of nice presents. It’s nice to know that so many people care.

I’m glad school is done. I didn’t even cry.

Ah, graduation: The culmination of all things high school. At the time, graduates feel like they’re on top of the world. I know I did. My senior year was no mountaintop experience. I dumped my perpetually depressed boyfriend, who proceeded to take up with one of my best friends (some best friend!) within 24 hours, leaving me to fret about my lack of boyfriendage in my diary for months (“I wish I had a boyfriend!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” — yes, 15 exclamation points). I was voted student council president by all the other student council reps who earned their position by popularity and didn’t want to be bothered with actually doing anything, and I ran the group like a classical bureaucrat focused on maintaining the status quo – no lunchtime tabletop speeches that might tick off the principal in this rule-following girl’s bag of tricks, you betcha. And I spent a lot of time bemoaning bad hair days (“I highlighted my hair today. It’s horrible.”)

But I did get to speak at graduation. Wadena Senior High School, being the cosmopolitan crossroads of Central Minnesota, saved money on commencement speakers by having graduating seniors speak. I was among four valedictorians tapped for the honor. Though I’ve kept papers like “The Real and Imagined Worlds of Sylvia Plath” and “Mutual Security: A Presidential Brief Concerning United States-Soviet Union Relations” (which contains the poetic advice on international relations “Mr. President, we must begin somewhere. And we must keep in sight our goals no matter dark the trail or how slow the caravan”), I have no record of my stirring commencement speech. Should I ever be asked to speak at another commencement ceremony, I’ll have to, um, commence my address from scratch: “Commencement: To commence.” Perhaps I can work in another fine line from screenwriter Cameron Crowe in 1989’s “Say Anything,” from the mouth of Ione Skye as Diane Court: “I have glimpsed our future. And all I can say is … go back.”

I ran across this space filler in the May 24, 1985 edition of the Wadena Senior High Tomahawk, the ill-named student newspaper of which I was a co-editor (Wadena’s mascot at the time was the Indians which has since been changed). It’s filled with clichés 2012’s graduating seniors might be feeling about now. I might have written it though it’s uncredited:

The halls were empty. She closed her locker — slowly. Then she shuffled dow n the hall — she sighed when she walked by the Senior of the Week showcase.

It was a beautiful day outside — she smiled. Then she turned around.

“Goodbye Wadena Senior High School! Goodbye Mr. Westman. Goodbye Mrs. Theisen … Goodbye everybody …”

She started walking away from the school. Another chapter in her life had closed.

But there is still a whole book left to write.

Speaking of 2012 and books left to write, I’ve commissioned an artist to create cover art for my memoir. Click here to check it out on the blog about my book.