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By David Steinberg

It is easy to see how 2017 is a landmark year for Michael Connelly, an award-winning writer of crime fiction.

Consider these literary events.

One. Earlier this summer the paperback edition of Connelly’s bestselling Harry Bosch novel “The Wrong Side of Goodbye” was released.

Two. The next novel featuring Bosch as the central character is “Two Kinds of Truth.” It is due out in cloth this October.

Three. About a week ago – on July 18 to be exact – Little, Brown published another masterful police procedural by Connelly. It’s titled “The Late Show.”

No Bosch in this book, however. Instead it heralds the debut of a new protagonist. Her name is Renée Ballard and she’s a Los Angeles police detective who works the graveyard shift, “the late show” in cop lingo.

A woman in a man’s world, Ballard’s risk-taking, candor and honesty make her as sympathetic as Bosch. And like him but in her own way, Ballard prefers to  operates as a lone wolf and is a dogged seeker of justice.

Ballard has a partner named Jenkins three days a week. They each fly solo two days a week. Jenkins sticks to the hours of his shift. He wants to be home when his wife, who has cancer, is awake.

Ballard’s doggedness surfaces from the first pages of the novel.

In the their initial case, Ballard and Jenkins interview a 77-year-old woman who lost her wallet and credit card in a home burglary. Ballard eventually tracks down the burglar who is an enterprising thief.

In the second chapter Ballard and Jenkins are diverted to investigate the assault of a male prostitute dressed as a woman. The cross-dresser is hospitalized after a severe beating. Again, it’s Ballard who goes after a menacing suspect and, in a thrilling turning point in the novel, Ballard finds herself in a kill-or-be-killed situation.

A third case, and the bloodiest of the three, also emerges in the second chapter and becomes the dominant storyline. Five people are shot to death in a nightclub. Three of the victims are in the same booth as the shooter. The other victims are the bouncer and a waitress.

Ballard is not officially on this case. But she’s asked to gather the belongings of the dead waitress, notify next of kin and pass along an impounded camera with images another club patron took during the violence. Ballard does her part. Still, she’s curious about who the shooter is, who the victims are and why a fellow cop is spending so many hours at the crime scene.

The novel incorporates issues of bad cops, sexist cops, and biased journalists; a newsman is too tight with an upper-level cop.

A hint of potential romance appears but Ballard isn’t ready. She’s still dealing with the internal politics of an overly aggressive colleague.

If you’re familiar with the Bosch series, “The Late Show” will make you a fan of Ballard and you’ll soon find yourself reading the earlier Bosch installments and maybe even the courtroom drama/crime novels featuring Bosch’s flamboyant half-brother, LA lawyer Mickey Haller.

Oh, there’s another relevant bit of information reinforcing 2017 as a landmark year for Connelly.  This spring marked the third season of the Amazon Studios’ TV series “Bosch” on Amazon Prime. The series is based on the Harry Bosch novels. Connelly is co-executive producer and co-screenwriter.

C.J. Box will read from, discuss and sign copies of his new novel “Vicious Circle” at 7 p.m. Friday, March 24 at the KiMo Theatre, Fifth and Central NW. The “signature” event , which is free and open to the public, is part of the KiMo’s 90th anniversary celebration.

By David Steinberg

C.J. Box credits his stint in journalism for teaching him discipline.

Box has been writing one Joe Pickett novel every year since 2001 and in some alternating years two books, a Joe Pickett and a stand-alone.

His newest book is “Vicious Circle,” the 17th title in the Joe Pickett crime series.

“I just go to work every day. I think I’m a pretty efficient writer. Once I get the outline done I just sit down and go,” Box said. “I try to get a certain amount of work done every day, usually five days a week and usually over six or seven months.”

He writes in an office that had been the rafters of the barn on his 200-acre ranch near Saratoga, Wyo.

“Vicious Circle,” Box said, draws on the earlier Pickett books retroducing a number of characters, a literary technique he hadn’t used in the series.

Pickett, a game warden in Twelve Sleep County, Wyo., believes that ex-con Dallas Cates, a former rodeo champion, is seeking revenge. He is. Cates blames Pickett for the fight that left three members of Cates’ family dead and a fourth, his mother, in prison. Now Cates is facing a murder charge, and he and his deadly cohorts intend to take out Pickett and his family. You can see the title meaning Cates is viciously circling his prey.

Stressing a small-town flavor, Box interlaces criminal investigation with stories of family, friends and associates. DA Dulcie Schalk is a close horse-riding friend of Pickett’s wife, Marybeth. Cates and the Picketts’ daughter, April, had been in a  rough relationship when Cates was on the rodeo circuit.  Pickett’s mother-in-law Missy is the recent spouse of a celebrated defense attorney now representing Cates in court.

Box doesn’t think of the Pickett series as crime novels. They have been built around controversies common to many Western states, controversies such as energy development, endangered species, resorts. “Vicious Circle” is more of a personal story. 

And Box doesn’t think of protagonist as an action hero, but more a Western archetype. The author has briefly described Pickett in the novels as “thin and of medium height” and by occupation a law enforcement loner responsible for covering as many as thousands of square miles.

The most recent of Box’s awards was the 2016 Literature Award given to his Pickett novel “Endangered” by the National Cowboy Museum and Western Heritage Center.

Later this year, “Paradise Valley,” the last volume in Box’s stand-alone Highway Quartet, will be released. The quartet is about a long-haul truck driver who’s a serial killer.

Box grew up reading a lot. Authors who were his early inspirations included A.B. Guthrie and Thomas McGuane. Other favorite crime genre writers are Michael Connelly, John Sandford and George Pelecanos. “Raymond Chandler was the first one I got into,” he said. “I never thought I was writing mysteries until I was categorized as such. I think they’re more contemporary Western novels.”

Box is one of two well-known present-day Wyoming-based novelists. The other is Craig Johnson, author of the crime series with Sheriff Walt Longmire. Some of the Longmire books have been adapted to a TV series filmed in New Mexico.

     

“Thunder Boy Jr.” by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.99

Review by David Steinberg

Thunder Boy Smith Jr.  was named for his dad, Thunder Boy Smith Sr.

Junior is only a kid but he’s had it with his name. He hates his name. He wants his own, one-of-a-kind name.

Sherman Alexie’s charming children’s book relates Junior’s search for a new name.

Junior considers a bunch of possibilities.

How about “Touch the Clouds” because he once climbed a mountain?

Or “Mud in His Ears” because he loves playing in dirt?

Or “Star Boy” because  he dreamed that the sun and moon were his mom and dad.

His dad’s nickname is “Big Thunder” so Junior certainly doesn’t want to be known as “Little Thunder.” “That nickname makes me sound like a burp or a fart,” he says.

Junior declares his love for his dad but he doesn’t want to be just like him. “I want to be mostly myself,” he says.

Just when he’s thinking about how to raise the issue with his dad, dad jumps in, saying it’s time to give his son a name of his own. Really! What timing!

Dad proposes this name: “Lighting”! 

Junior loves it. What a pair, what a duo he and his father will be.

“Together, my dad and I will become amazing weather. Our love will be loud and it will be bright,” Junior decides.

Yuyi Morales’ bold, brilliant colors give the book a special dimension, a dimension that will brighten the eyes of children and adults alike.

What a treat!

Alexie, a prize-winning author/poet/filmmaker, wrote “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He is a resident of Seattle.

Morales, who divides her time between Mexico and California has illustrated many books including “Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez.”

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Sherman Alexie will give a talk at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 26 at the KiMo Theatre, Fifth and Central NW.

Tickets are available in several price categories – $50 for priority seating and signing line preference; $25 for one general admission and a signed copy of “Thunder Boy Jr.”; $5 for one general admission.

Each ticket includes a donation to the Albuquerque Public Library Foundation.

Alexie will also sign copies of “Thunder Boy Jr.”

By David Steinberg

Today, April 23, 1616 is the day that William Shakespeare died. That’s exactly 400 years ago the man considered the pre-eminent playwright in the English language passed away in Stratford-upon-Avon.

On that same day in that same year another famous writer was buried in Spain. His name was Miguel de Cervantes. He died on April 22 but his death is commemorated on the 23rd, the day he was buried.

Cervantes wrote during what is known as Spain’s Siglo de Oro, its so-called Golden Age of the arts, its Renaissance.

Cervantes is considered the father of the modern novel. And that novel he wrote is “Don Quixote de la Mancha.” Therefore, it’s an ideal day to remember the novel and its author

In Spain and in Latin America, the novel is revered, is referenced, is quoted and yes is read and re-read by general readers. Scholars and intellectuals in many countries have critiqued and commented on its power.

In his 2015 book explaining the novel’s profound influence on cultures worldwide, scholar Ilan Stavans presents in Spanish and in English the novel’s opening. Stavans’ book is titled “Don Quixote – The Novel and the World.”

He writes, “If ‘Don Quixote’ is masterful in its entirety, its first sentence is unforgettable: an extract, an Aleph, a microcosm … It gives both purpose and traction to the narrative.”

Here is that opening sentence: En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanzas en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.

Stavans’ English translation: In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack, and a greyhound for coursing.

The knight-errant rides a skeletal horse named Rocinante. Don Quixote’s round, practical-minded foil is his squire, Sancho Panza, astride his animal, a donkey named Rucio. They’re the model for many odd couples we’ve seen in literature.

Cervantes wrote “Don Quixote” in two parts. The first part was published in 1605, the second in 1615. It is more than 900 pages long and has been translated into many languages, English one of them. In fact, there have been 20 English translations, four by Americans.

Many Americans have come to the novel, he writes, from having seen the stage musical “Man of La Mancha” or having listened to its soundtrack. “The Impossible Dream” is the signature song from the musical and it encapsulates Quixote’s idealism, his individualism, his quest, his adventures, his sense of hope. So he represents more than medieval chivalry. 

Note: In case you wondered, Stavans was raised in Mexico City and is a professor at Amherst College. W.W. Norton is the publisher of “Don Quixote – The Novel and the World.”

By David Steinberg

Families will have two upcoming opportunities to hear Rio Rancho author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson read from her new picture books – “The Book Itch – Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore” and “Don’t Call Me Grandma.”

Nelson will be at the Barnes & Noble in Cottonwood Corners at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 9 and she will be at the Barnes & Noble in Coronado Shopping Center at about 1 p.m. Sunday, April 17.

“The Book Itch,” Nelson said, is presented from the viewpoint of Louis Michaux Jr.  “as a way to bring Louis senior’s (his father’s) story to a younger audience,” she said.

Louis Michaux Sr., the bookstore’s owner, was the subject of Nelson’s award-winning book “No Crystal Stair,” a nontraditional biography that the author described as “documentary fiction.”

“I wanted the focus of ‘The Book Itch’ to be the relationship between Louis junior and his father and the impact of the bookstore. Basically the power of words,” she said.

Nelson’s other recent book, “Don’t Call Me Grandma,” is based on the author’s paternal grandmother, Sinah. (Sinah was the sister-in-law of Louis Michaux Sr. – Nelson’s great uncle.)

“Sinah was not someone who was a warm person. I didn’t know her very well but I was drawn to her. There was something intriguing there. She was stern and prickly, but glamorous,” Nelson said.

Sinah is the basis for the fictional great-grandmother Nell in Nelson’s book.

Sinah, she said, had a great memory. So the family ran a tape recorder and asked her to recall her growing up.

“I wished I had known her sooner but I feel grateful that I had that time with her,” Nelson said. “After she passed away the story (about Nell) was simmering. I ultimately wanted to honor Sinah and to remind readers that we can find something to love if we look deep.”

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Nelson’s April 9 reading/discussion is part of Educators Appreciation Week at the Cottonwood Corners bookstore. Other events for educators at the store are at 5 p.m. Friday, April 15 (Make and Create) and at 1 p.m. April 17 (Pete the Cat Workshop).

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Nelson’s appearance at the B&N in Coronado is part of an April 15-17 book fair sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators of New Mexico.

Here is the list of the book fair events:

-5-7 p.m. Friday April 15 in the downstairs Teen Dept.. Lauren Bjorkman talks about “Writing Diverse Characters” and Lois Ruby discusses with educators “Using Historical Fiction Across the Curriculum”

-10-11 a.m. Saturday, April 16 in the Children’s Atrium, Page Grant reads “Kitten Caboodle” and Lois Bradley discusses “Blind Tom + Thumbnails, Dummies and Galleys: The Art of a Picture Book”

-1-4 p.m. Saturday. In the Teen Dept., Chris Eboch talks about “Historical Fiction Makes Learning Fun”; Talia Pura talks about “Using Creative Drama in the Classroom”; Catalina Claussen discusses “Strategies for Lesson Planning to meet Common Core State Standards” (the above three are for educators); and Alexandra Diaz reads chapters from two forthcoming novels.

-1-4 p.m. Saturday in the Children’s Atrium, Melinda Beavers reads from “Zoo’s Annual Piggyback Race” and “I Want to be a Lion”; Mary Nethery reads from “Follow Me”; and Neecy Twinem reads from “Where’s Boo? A ZombieZoo Story.”

-Noon-2 p.m. April 17. Chris Eboch talks about “Have You Ever Wanted to Write for Children?” Caroline Starr Rose will discuss her books “Over in the Wetlands” and “Blue Birds” and Vaunda Nelson will talk about and read from her two recent books. (They’ll be in the downstairs Teen Dept.)

-Noon-2 p.m. April 17. Tricia Tusa reads from “Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & A Miracle and Rosemary Zibart reads from “Forced Journey” and “True Brit.” (They’re in the upstairs Children’s Atrium)

 

By David Steinberg

Entry 1. Last Friday, Feb. 26, I attended my first meeting of a book club. Over several decades I’d written about clubs as the book editor of the Albuquerque Journal but I had never participated in one. 

My first meeting was also the first meeting of the club. It’s a neighborhood thing. The suggestion to form the club came in an email from Sylvia, who lives across the street with her husband, Arthur.  Two other neighbors, Artemis and Bob, also attended the meeting. The meeting was held at Sylvia and Arthur’s home.

All the people on our block, actually those living on both sides of the street of our block, were invited to participate. Maybe others will join for future sessions.

I found the first meeting friendly, informative and intellectually stimulating. And it was nice to getting to better know my neighbors. The agreed-upon book that was the subject of the meeting was the novel “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline.

The story follows the lives of two women – the 91-year Vivian and her past life as an orphan who loses her Irish immigrant family in a fire in 1929 New York City tenement and finds herself on a train headed to a new life in rural Minnesota. The other woman is a teenager, Molly, who is in the present time but who has lived in foster homes. Molly and Vivian form a bond. Their lives have been filled with pain. But they are survivors and the reader is privileged to journey with them.

Though a novel, the story is based on the author’s research in a little known aspect of American history – the orphan train. Between 1854 and 1929, these trains took hundreds of thousands of children to new lives, some into the pits of indentured servitude.

The book was published in 2012.

Thank you, Sylvia, for organizing the book club. And thank you, Sylvia and Arthur, for graciously hosting the meeting.

song of shadowsReview by David Steinberg

I have favorite authors, as many readers do. Choosing what to read of what they’ve written is another matter.

I watch for John Connolly’s crime novels. I’m a big fan of his Charlie Parker series.

And I’ve just finished reading “A Song of Shadows,” the newest in that series. Not that new; it was released last fall. But it certainly hasn’t lose its power sitting on the shelf.

Parker is a fearless private detective even while recovering from a shooting that nearly killed him. Battered physically and emotionally, he’s still haunted by the death of his wife and daughter.

Parker is now recuperating in a seaside house in Boreas, Maine when he meets a neighbor, Ruth Winter. She is reluctant to let Parker peel away the shadows of her world.

When Ruth is killed, Parker takes it upon himself to find out what’s behind her murder. His snooping challenges the local police and the dynamics of the town. He is smart, forceful, relentless. He is, in other words, a presence, and that presence is reason why some folks in town want him out of the way. 

Among them are Germans who emigrated to the U.S. after World War II. They’re still hiding their Nazi past and are linked to a shadowy Boreas resident who is an unlikely neo-Nazi. Parker keeps digging. He sees a connection between this cabal and Winter’s death, and to an apparent suicide by drowning in the offshore waters.

And there are the constant shadows in Parker’s life – his half-hidden buddies Louis and Angel who are available to rescue him and the reappearing specter of his dead daughter.

Obviously, shadows dominate this story. They invest the novel with shades of darkness that Connolly fashions into a thrilling read.

“A Song of Shadows” is an Emily Bestler Book published by Atria. Retail price is $26.99.

The next installment in the Charlie Parker series is due out this year.

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