Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to Survive Life (and Death)

It's one thing to have a Near-Death Experience (or NDE, for short), but to have three?  Could it be that fate shepherded Emmy nominated art director and author Robert Kopecky away from three potential near-death catastrophes in order to finally convince him to commit his experiences to the page and share what he's learned with others?

Kopecky never planned on personally investigating the nature of death and how to live a more fulfilling life. But in his entertaining memoir and self-help book, How to Survive Life (and Death): A Guide for Happiness in This World and Beyond, he delivers his insightful and inspiring personal story, which puts mortality into perspective while offering strategies to improve and experience life to the fullest. Crafted in simple, accessible prose, and filled with lots of good humor, the author intersperses details of each of his NDEs, which occurred via various culprits in three distinct generations of his life. The author's disembodiment experiences—and each aftermath—taught him valuable life lessons that ultimately enlightened him about the nature of time, how to face fear and suffering, why "radical kindness" and compassion, along with forging a spirit of generosity and forgiveness, are essential to keeping faith and hope alive.

Kopecky ties cosmology, metaphysics and quantum reality together with his own spiritual experiences, while also weaving in theories from Buddhism, Hinduism, the teachings of Gandhi, excerpts from the apocryphal Gospels of Thomas and the more contemporary views of Joseph Campbell. In the end, Kopecky's miraculous passages back from the brink of death make for a compelling narrative—for believers, nonbelievers and garden-variety skeptics. He demonstrates how love and surrender are liberating, healing powers that can ultimately bring us "out of this world"—and sometimes back again, too!
Conari Press,  $16.95 paper, 97801573246361, 224 pp
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Martha Grimes: Every Book the Last Book

The Writer's Life

Since 1981, fans of the Richard Jury mysteries have come to expect eccentric characters, peculiar murders and a smart, cultured, analytical detective who searches for killers from a cast of disparate suspects. One of the more consistent hallmarks of a Richard Jury novel are the titles derived from clever names of actual pubs and bars, like The Old Fox Deceiv'd and The StargazeyMartha Grimes has largely set the atmospheric series in London and quaint, small-town villages in the English countryside, but a few titles are also set in America--The Horse You Came in On in Baltimore, Md., and Rainbow's End in Santa Fe, N.Mex. Her new Jury novel, Vertigo 42 (see review below), is set in London and environs.
Grimes is a writer of authority and great wit. She continues to reinvent and put refreshing new spins on the traditional mystery form. She has also penned several other books, not all of them mysteries. Her novels Foul Matter and The Way of All Fish offer funny, suspenseful send-ups of the publishing industry.
You are a U.S. born-and-bred writer, yet most of the Jury novels are set in Britain. What is your connection to England?
None, other than I've always liked it.
Do you often travel to England and the British countryside for research?
Not as often as I used to. Perhaps every couple of years now.
You've written 23 books in the Jury series. How and why do you stay engaged in this series and keep it fresh?
Because I like the characters, not simply Richard Jury and Melrose Plant, but all of the characters, including the ones readers appear to hate.
How was Richard Jury's character originally created?
As with all of my characters, Richard Jury simply popped into my mind. So did Melrose Plant. So did all of the others. There's no backstory; there's no searching for names; there's nothing prior. All I knew about the main character was that I wanted a Scotland Yard detective.
Do you have favorite characters from the Jury series? If so, who are they and why do they appeal to you?
Carole-anne Palutski (Jury's neighbor) is one because she's always intruding. She has no respect for Jury's personal "space." This amuses me. I'm especially fond of the kids and the animals. I always enjoy writing scenes with them in it. Mungo (the dog) was a total relief from boredom.
I also really like Harry Johnson because he's more clever, most of the time, than Richard Jury. Jury needs a nemesis.
The names of pubs and bars play a significant role in each Jury novel. Was this a conscious choice from the inception of the series?
Yes. I couldn't imagine better titles.
The name and atmosphere of the champagne bar, Vertigo 42, is a departure from your usual small-time pubs. Why did you make this choice?
Because of the name. How could one resist it?
How did the story of Vertigo 42 germinate?
Stories don't really "germinate" for me. I start writing and keep writing and the story goes on. Vertigo 42 started because, as I said, I was fascinated by the name. That's the way a lot of the books in the series started: because of the name.
Do you carefully plot out your novels in advance of writing them?
I never plot them out. I tried once and couldn't do it. The reason for this is (1) I can't write unless characters are moving and talking in some setting that I can see and hear, and (2) plots bore me. There is a famous writer/editor, whose name escapes me, who was approached by a student who asked him to look at a plot she'd formed for a novel. He said, "There is no plot." I loved that. A plot cannot be foretold separately from the whole story.
You studied at the University of Iowa writing program and concentrated on poetry. How and why did your writing career veer toward mystery novels?
My poetry was complicated by elements of mystery--dark houses, fleeing children, bodies, blood. The book of poetry I published is a British mystery in poetry form, or a satirical treatment of one.
Your memoir, Double, Double--co-written with your son, Ken--deals with your shared struggles with alcoholism. Would fans of the Richard Jury mysteries want to read this book?
I don't know if they'd want to read it because they like Jury. But everyone knows someone who's been touched by alcoholism, so perhaps that would be a reason to read it.
Is there a difference between writing a novel "under the influence" versus being sober?
Yes, "under the influence" is more fun. However, "under the influence" suggests some sort of drunken stupor. I never actually drank when I wrote, but that had to do with my writing schedule more than my being a good little writer. Insofar as the books are concerned, I doubt anyone could tell where the line was drawn.
If readers have not yet experienced a Richard Jury novel (pity the fool!), should they start with the first book (The Man with a Load of Mischief) or can they jump into the series midstream?
There's no need to start at the beginning. I'd suggest The Anodyne because it introduces the Cripps family and features Emily Louise Perk, who serves as a perfect example of Jury's and Melrose Plant's interactions with children. But one could start anywhere in the series, I think.
Do you have a favorite Richard Jury novel?
The Old Wine Shades because it's intelligent. I enjoyed writing about quantum mechanics and, also, it introduces both Harry Johnson and the dog Mungo. How could I ask for more?
You've been writing and publishing books for decades. Does the process get easier or more difficult?
More difficult. Much, much more difficult.
You are an esteemed and lauded "mystery writer." Do you often have the urge to write fiction other than mysteries?
I've written nine novels that are not mysteries--two books in the Andi Oliver series certainly aren't mysteries! How do readers come by this naive idea that any book that contains a mysterious death or a disappearance or something else inexplicable is a "mystery"? If that were the case, even Henry James would be thought to have written several "mysteries." I'm getting tired of the assumption that any book I write must be a mystery.
Throughout the series, Richard Jury has been rather unlucky in love. Do you think he'll ever find a true, lasting soul mate?
I thought he had. But I was wrong. I think he will. I could be wrong again.
Do you foresee a conscious end or conclusion to the Jury series some day?
Robert Frost said, "Make every poem your last poem." Every Jury novel has a note of finality to it, although the only one readers ever paid attention to was the ending of The Blue Last. Every book is the last book, in a very real sense. I have no plans for closing down Richard Jury. But life does. --Kathleen Gerard

Note: This interview is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A on Shelf Awareness: Maximum Shelf (5/21/14), click HERE

Vertigo 42

New Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury returns to the page with a visit to Vertigo 42, a stylish high-rise champagne bar in London. Jury is meeting friend-of-a-friend Tom Williamson, whose wife, Tess, died 17 years earlier. Her fatal fall down a flight of garden stairs was ruled a result of a misstep, but Tom isn't convinced. He asks Richard Jury if he'll use his connections to investigate.

Five years before Tess's death, she'd hosted a party for some children at her estate; tragically, nine-year-old Hilda Palmer fell into a drained pool on the grounds and died. Could Tess's death been an act of revenge?

For the next seven days, Martha Grimes (The Man with a Load of Mischief) plots the journey of Jury and his dependable sidekick, Sergeant Wiggins. As they travel through the English countryside, they seek out the five surviving party guests (all now adults with secrets of their own), hoping to unearth new insights into Tess's death. Their quest is complicated by two more deaths--in Long Piddleton and Sidbury--that may or may not be related.

With each new discovery and red herring, Grimes leads readers deeper into dark, winding labyrinths of suspicion and doubt. Jury remains an engaging protagonist: smart, witty, sarcastic and wholly unafraid to follow his instincts. As in the other 22 books in the series, Grimes's fondness for classic movies, literature and cleverly named British pubs resurface.  In Vertigo 42, Grimes, a master of the genre, pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock. While some of the identifying descriptions of the large supporting cast are a bit sketchy, Grimes surprising mystery gives just enough information to refresh old fans and whet the appetites of new readers

Scribner Books, $26.00 Hardcover, 9781476724027, 326 pp
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/3/14), click HERE

To read the full review of this novel as originally published as a special feature of Shelf Awareness: Maximum Shelf (5/21/14)--a much longer and much more comprehensive review--link HERE

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Dog Year

Beneath the surface of Luscious "Lucy" Peterman's life as a well-respected Elmwood, Wisconsin breast surgeon is a woman with a shattered psyche. Eight months before, Lucy lost her loving husband and her unborn child in a single afternoon. Ever since, Lucy has tried to bury herself in work. But there's a problem. Lucy has developed an inexplicable urge to pilfer hospital supplies such as bandages, tape, IV tubing and stockpile them in the bedroom she once shared with her husband. When the powers-that-be at the hospital catch Lucy in the act of stealing, she is given an ultimatum: go for psychological counseling or forfeit her medical license. Under protest, she chooses the former, soon understanding that the root of her addiction stems from the realization that if she had such provisions with her on the day her life forever changed, Lucy might've been able to alter her fate.

The bond Lucy shares with her brother deepens as she undergoes treatment for her kleptomania and is propelled on a journey that connects her with a concerned psychoanalyst; an anorexic stranger with deep-seated emotional issues of her own, who might have friend potential; quirky attendees at a local 12-Step, AA meeting; and a snarky cop who once knew Lucy in high school. Along the way, a stray dog unexpectedly wins Lucy's affections and helps soothe her languishing grief.

Engrossing characterizations and unexpected complications permeate The Dog Year by Ann Garvin (On Maggie's Watch), a novel that addresses serious issues of loss and self-actualization in a very entertaining way.

Berkley Trade,  $15.00 paper, 9780425269251 , 336 pp
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/6/14), click HERE