Here I am again. They didn’t fire me yet. You can keep on sending your books to me at the address below. Be sure to include the submission form.
You’ll learn, as you read this column every month, that I’m a sucker for a good police procedural or mystery. I have two this month that fit in that category, and one of them is nonfiction.
Canine Search and Rescue: Follow a Bloodhound’s Training and Actual Casework by Keith M. Pigg is fascinating. I’m also a sucker for dogs, and other that the Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn (not a Mensan, but fun and interesting) this is about as good as it gets.
Pigg purchased nine-week-old Cleopatra and spent three years training her and many years after that doing search and rescue work with her. There is so much more to this process than I ever imagined, and what little I thought I knew about bloodhounds was wrong.
Pigg says he is not a writer, but he certainly presents a fascinating view of how man and dog combine to form an effective team, each with their responsibilities defined. They have to learn to communicate in subtle ways. If there is a lot of anthropomorphizing here, ascribing thoughts and emotions to Cleo, I don’t think he was too far off in his analysis, because their team worked, in both senses of the word. You can’t argue with success.
But before you get too far along thinking about the romance of rescuing people in need, you also need to deal with the reality of bloodhounds. As Pigg tells us, Cleo and other bloodhounds smell, slobber, have ear and eye problems, and are not real good with house rules. Still, when you need them, they’re almost magical.
A good bloodhound can follow a scent trail days after it’s been laid down and through all kinds of weather and terrain. They can even follow a person who has ridden away in a car. And no, trying to cover the scent trail with chili peppers doesn’t work. As for the rest of it, I think you’ll find this book well worth reading.
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My second police procedural is a novel, Mangrove Bayou, by Stephen Morrill. Morrill tells us that this is the first of a series of books about Troy Adam, the new director of public safety (police chief) of a tiny department in Mangrove Bayou, Florida. That’s good news when the first book is as good as this one.
We find out that Troy is “mixed-race, ex-army, and northern-born” He’s fired from the Tampa Police Department and lands a probationary job in Mangrove Bayou. Since the city fathers had only one other applicant, clearly unqualified, they’re stuck with Troy and he with them.
In mysteries and thrillers, the author is supposed to increase the stakes to up the level of tension, so Morrill throws in a murder, a stalking, a tad of racism, and an approaching hurricane. No kitchen sinks though. And it works. We get to know Troy, as do the townspeople, and find that he’s a good man to know in a crisis.
There are a few editing problems, but they’re not enough to bring you out of the story. I do think the author missed an opportunity by resolving the obligatory romance too soon. He could have spaced it out over several books. It would have been another reason to come back for the next one.
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Another of my favorites this month is Under the Bell Curve: Random Essays from a Mensa Member by Teresa Fisher. This is a collection of essays written for various Mensa publications between 1982 and now. Those of you who have had the pleasure of reading Fisher’s essays before will know what I mean when I say that they are just plain fun. I’ve read other books like this, but they usually come off like a collection of letters home from camp or teachers’ lesson plan outlines. This is neither. The topics are interesting and the writing is polished.
She tells us that the 80 essays are in random order, though they are in loosely grouped in sections labeled Travel, Weirdshit, Toastmasters, Documentaries, Worsts, and a long section called Miscellaneous.
Fisher tells us that she doesn’t want to be a professional writer. Well, get over it, Teresa. Find a more interesting subtitle and a better name or names for the Miscellaneous section and start sending these essays out to an even wider world than the Mensa membership.
She also tells us that she’s working on a second book. We can all look forward to that.
I have a standard for people and for books. Would I like to live next to them/would I like to put them on my bookshelf. The answers here are yes and yes.
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The Seamless Universe: Battle Lines Are Drawn by Kathleen Ripley Leo is another first of a proposed series. It’s a young adult fantasy. Ms. Leo calls it an enviro-fairy tale, but I won’t hold that against her. It’s the story of three communities of fey or fairies. Two of the communities are tasked with taking care of the earth and the humans who live on it. The third community is destructive, with the power to cause such things as tsunamis, forest fires, and earthquakes. These fairies were created from the laugh of the first human child, and they replenish their membership with the souls of stillborn children.
The discord in this world is not caused only by the destructive community. The two groups of caretakers have a millennia-old feud the separates them and threatens their effectiveness in assigned task. The main story in this book is how that feud is resolved. Since this is a young adult book, I won’t be giving anything away if I tell you that the heroes are the young adult fey.
Ms. Leo is a much published poet, and you can see her poet’s mind at work in this text. The beauty of nature and of colors have a prominent place in this story.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been a young adult, so I can’t really say with authority that this book will appeal to readers in that age group, but if you like the hobbit books or the Harry Potter books, I think the magic and adventure in this book will be what you’re looking for.
There’s one thing about it that I really didn’t like, but it’s certainly not a fatal flaw. The younger characters have names like Bret and Colt and Zac. The older characters have names like Selat, Sulpicett, Talindat, and Magistrel. Could it be that Ms. Leo is condescending to the younger readers by using names that they can more readily identify with? I hope not.
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Karl Albrecht’s website shows 12 other books besides Brain Snacks: Fast Food for Your Mind—none of them like this one. I guess his sub-subtitle tells it all: “. . . being a collection of peculiar ideas, curious questions, oddball observations, pithy quotations, factoids, lame jokes . . .” and it goes on. It’s all those fun things you’ve seen various places and wish you had written down. Well, he did.
This isn’t the kind of book that you read from beginning to end. You’ll dip into it when you have a few minutes to spare. And when you do that and find something that makes you laugh out loud as I did, you’d better mark it because there’s no table of contents or index to lead you back to it.
Albrecht write in his introduction, which is at the end of the book because he figures that no one ever reads them anyway, “that ideas are the ultimate form of wealth, . . . Ideas are the magical capital that animates all other forms of capital.” He’s given us a lot here, but they’re like loose coins in a purse. We have to reach in and pull out the ones we want.
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After writing these reviews, I still have 43 books in line. I not going to get to all of them, so again I want to mention some others and thank you for sending them in. They include the following novels: World Enough and Time by Harley Staggars, a multidimensional romance, in which Staggers discusses his ideas about multidimensional time; Applied Biology: A Novel of Bipolar Disorder by Jane Thompson that follows the heroine as she fights Nazi euthanasia of the mentally ill; The Unknown Remembered Gate by Peter Allen, a fictional memoir about a man’s search for self; and Zevenbergen by Susan LaRosa, described by the author as “an extrapolation into the future, a love story that transcends time and dimension.” I hope you’ll check out the authors’ websites for more information on these books.