April 30, 2013

Guest post - Gregory Widen

This is a guest post by Gregory Widen, author of  Blood Makes Noise. Gregory studied film and screenwriting at UCLA, and penned scripts for the films Highlander, Backdraft, and The Prophecy. He’s a native of Laguna Beach, California and he lives in Los Angeles. Blood Makes Noise is his first novel.

I remember the moment I got the idea for Blood Makes Noise. I was visiting a friend in an unnamed Latin American country who was a field officer for the CIA. Now, this friend has been involved in all sorts of craziness, including – on direct orders – supervising not only the murder of certain bad individuals, but “making it hurt.”

Despite a life of anecdotes like this, in the nights we spent drinking, the only time I ever saw him express disgust for anything was the following anecdote: “On 9/11, the FBI office in Miami was given the photos of the hijackers. This was critical – it had to get to Washington immediately – and they sent it by FedEx. Why not e-mail? Because there wasn’t an agent there who knew how to attach a photo. That is all you need to know about the FBI.”

I’d already decided at this point to write a novel titled Blood Makes Noise, centered around the craziness that accompanied the disappearance of Eva Peron’s corpse in 1955 Argentina. I knew my hero would be a troubled CIA officer sucked into those events and nearly destroyed by them. But when you write a novel, character and plot are just two of three things you need. The third, and often most elusive, is a unique background that provides the kind of catalyst to propel characters forward beyond the requirements of plot.

It occurred to me that I might have just found my catalyst.

As my friend’s white-gloved butler served us bourbon martinis at precisely six o’clock, I pressed further. Everyone knows of the historical mistrust between the CIA and FBI, but I quickly learned just how toxic it had been in South America – to the point where the CIA and Hoover’s FBI were nearly in open warfare with each other.

Prior to the CIA’s creation in ’47, the FBI had always been in charge of spying in South America. But Truman, who never trusted J. Edgar Hoover, now wanted to hand that responsibility over to his new agency. From that moment on, Hoover committed himself to strangling the baby CIA in its crib.

As servants built a fire in the living room, “drinks” became a cocktail party as various local spooks arrived. There was the BND (German spy agency) guy, another who’s family ran Cuban Intelligence, and some current and retired CIA. Working through my third martini, I soaked up the stories.

Despite Truman’s change, Hoover managed to keep many of his people in place, effectively creating an FBI-run CIA within the CIA. As the agency fought to get control, Hoover just went to greater lengths to discredit it.

As the party devolved, I remembered a dinner commitment. My friend’s crew decided to join me. Off we went to a large dinner party most memorable for the moment my friend informed me that my host was the son of the country’s biggest narco boss. I worried I’d unknowingly made some terrible mistake. But he only smiled wryly: “No. Thank you. It would have taken me months to make this meeting happen by accident.”

Both the drinks and stories kept coming: how in an effort to discredit the CIA, Hoover had ordered his men – while a CIA team burglarized a foreign embassy – to fire shots outside to alert the security people within. Or the time the CIA had arranged the defection of a KGB officer in Buenos Aires and Hoover, wanting the credit – and to embarrass the CIA – had his boys grab the defector in a restaurant first. But a CIA team arrived at the same moment and a brawl broke out between the two groups, trashing the place.

It was chaos in the CIA stations down there at the time. The old FBI officers still in place did everything possible to frustrate and humiliate the new arriving CIA personnel, including burning their files when they were finally ordered out. Those days in South America, sighed an old hand, were one wild circus.

As evening crawled to dawn, I knew now the atmosphere my character would be thrust into: a freshly minted CIA officer arriving in Buenos Aires and going to war against the old FBI hands still in place. A young man whose greatest threat would turn out not to be the KGB, but the people in his own embassy.

Walking home later, I thought, not for the first time: It’s funny where ideas come from.

April 20, 2013

On the Map - review

On the Map
author:  Simon Garfield
publisher:  Penguin Group, Gotham Books
source:  publisher

We grew up with maps;  some of us have maps in our brains and know to turn left or right while driving.   Once I visited a friend in New Jersey -- we went into New York City.  Coming back to her parents' home,  she told me to turn right,  I said "no" and turned left.  That was the correct way to her parents'.  Other people have absolutely no sense of direction;  for example, my sweet husband cannot drive himself to one of the Malls in our town because he can't remember how to get there.

I thoroughly enjoyed browsing through the maps and tales in Garfield's book  On the Map.  He begins with the earliest maps in the Great Library of Alexandria during the third century B.C.

Garfield covers the globe well.  Some intriguing chapter titles are:
  • Cholera and the Map that Stopped It
  • X Marks the Spot: Treasure Island
  • Pass Go   (about maps as games)
My favorite chapters were about the London Tube and the celebrities' homes in Hollywood.  How I wish I had bought a t-shirt or coffee cup of the Tube when I visited there in 1989! 

Simon Garfield is a fabulous writer who can boggle one's mind on the way the world looks.

April 19, 2013

Keep No Secrets - review

Keep No Secrets
author Julie Compton
publisher FreshFork Publishing
source NetGalley

Goodread's question  After the ultimate betrayal, which is more important: trust or forgiveness?
I thoroughly enjoyed Julie Compton's  Tell No Lies a few years ago.  When I found out she had come up with a sequel,  I jumped at the opportunity to read it.   Keep No Secrets reads well as a stand-alone.  

Jack Hilliard, district attorney,  wakes up to the sound of his son and son's girlfriend making out downstairs.   Jack attempts to defuse the situation.   Then he is asked for help.   Can a person ever be too helpful?  Yes, this Jack learns to his dismay.

Compton knows how to make her books full of suspense.   She repeats the same phrase again and again.   It starts with, "This is when Jack makes his first mistake."    "...second mistake."   "...third mistake."   The reader thinks to herself:  Oh, Jack, Jack, Jack!  You're digging yourself in deeper.  

Another excellent example of Compton's suspenseful repetition: "The lies aren't what he says; they're what he doesn't say."    That brings to mind the expression:  lies of omission.

I was enjoying this book with its twists until Jack is determined to get in his car and go out of state to a hotel.  Problem: he doesn't know which town, which hotel in the other state.  How could he find the hotel if he doesn't know which town?  Those few chapters connected with that hotel seemed to be written hurriedly as if for a scene for a television show.

This minor issue won't keep me from reading other future novels by Compton.   

April 18, 2013

BTT - language

Today's Booking Through Thursday says:  "I saw a Latin edition of “The Hobbit” last time I was at the bookstore… Do you read any foreign languages? Do you ENJOY reading in other languages?"

The last time I read a book in a foreign language was in Latin class, Julius Caesar. "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres,"   That doesn't count because it was a mandatory read in school.

One book that I recently read,  Strong Deaf,  has both English and written ASL (American Sign Language).    Actually, ASL cannot be written in pen, ink, nor typed.  ASL is a three-dimensional language that incorporates movements which depend on placement on the body, around the face, certain repetitions, and hand shapes, along with facial and eyebrow expressions, and its own grammar.  How can you write THAT?!   If I were to read a complete book in ASL, I would be viewing in on-screen.

Back from my digress,  I recently read and reviewed  Strong Deaf by Lynn McElfrish.  It is about two young sisters, one hearing and the other deaf.  I wrote:  "The story is told from both girls' perspectives.  Jade's narrative is in perfect English.  Marla's is typed as if signed in ASL.  The casual reader may find reading ASL a bit off-putting.  Even though I know ASL, I had a hard time reading it at first.  Consider Marla's narrative as a dialect told through the hands, instead of voicing."

April 4, 2013

Lighthouse Bay - review

Lighthouse Bay
by Kimberley Freeman
publisher Touchstone, Simon and Schuster
published April  2013
source: publisher

Lighthouse Bay is a novel about two women a century apart.   They have much in common:
  • jewelery
  • leaves Europe
  • with deep grief
  • arrives in Australia, specifically Lighthouse Bay
  • a fresh start
  • a sister
I adored this book!   Freeman's style of writing expresses the characters' innermost desires and fears.   When she switched from one character (Isabelle in 1901) to another (Libby in 2011) and back again, I was so tempted to skip a few pages so that I could keep on reading about that certain character.     A wonderful, light read with some questions which do get answered.

I definitely will look for more Kimberley Freeman books, especially Wildflower Hill

April 1, 2013

Reboot - review

author: Amy Tinterra
to be published May 2013
publisher HarperTeen
source: publisher 

In a dystopian world, there are viruses that kill. The government has contained cities so that the diseases don't spread. 

Goodread's summary: Five years ago, Wren Connolly died. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas.
 Among Wren 178's duties are to (a) go on assignments  and (b) train newer Reboots who have come to the compound.    Callum 22 arrives;  his number is the lowest which means he has the most human qualities for a Reboot. He smiles too much.  Somehow, something inside Wren 178 makes her choose him as her new trainee.  

HARC (humans running the compound) injects some of the medium-numbered Reboots, such as 178's roommate and best friend Ever 56, with experimental drugs.  These drugs cause those  Reboots to growl and bite everyone nearby.  

In the meantime,  178, 22, and other Reboots go on assignments for HARC.    22 refuses to do an assignment because it is too cruel.   178 is ordered to kill him.  Uh oh.  How can Callum 22 be forced to lose his humanity?  As the blurb says,  178, the perfect soldier is done taking orders.

Wonderful dystopian story,  I breezed right through.  Bar codes on the skin,  trackers under the skin,  forced obedience, modesty,  lack of rights.   This book has it all.