Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

When Beverly Hillstrom, Vermont’s chief medical examiner and girlfriend of Vermont ProofPositiveBureau of Investigation detective Joe Gunther, asks him to look into the death of her cousin, Ben, how could he refuse? Ben, a Vietnam War Signal Corps photographer and a hoarder, was found crushed to death under a pile of his collection. The cause of death from Hillstrom’s autopsy was inconclusive. When Ben’s estranged ex-wife is found tortured and murdered soon after, Gunther’s senses are on high alert. As they search Ben’s house, another body is found. The murders coincide with a local exhibit, organized by Hillstrom’s daughter Rachel, of Ben’s photos. Soon, a curator of the exhibit is attacked in her bedroom and the Rachel’s faculty advisor, who assisted in the exhibit, is kidnapped. Gunther surmises that the photos may be at the crux of the killings and Rachel, too, may be in danger. Gunther’s VBI team goes all out to unravel this baffling situation.

Gunther and the regular crew, Sammie Martens, Willy Kunkle and Les Spinney, are back in full force in this absorbing 25th book in the Joe Gunther series, Proof Positive. One of the things I like about this series, is similar to the characters in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, these characters age as the books progress. Their personalities and life situations evolve over time. They’re not static as they are, for instance in the Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. I also love the Vermont setting: the mountains, the snow, the forests and rivers. I especially like how he talks about the industrial history of Vermont. I see that as I drive through all of New England, the old factories shuttered.

Mayor has created an interesting, unique set of criminals as well. They match wits very well with the VBI detectives. There is mystery and suspense to satisfy any reader.

I admit that I skipped a few books in the series. I just didn’t get around to reading them (too much other good stuff). However, it still felt like a family reunion. Those unfamiliar with the series will still enjoy Proof Positive immensely. The book stands alone quite nicely. A perfect book for fans of police procedurals, detective fiction and good mystery writing.


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StillLoveIf you were to ask me what Still Love in Strange Places is about, I’d think for a minute and tell you it’s a family saga, a la James Michener’s Hawaii, but shorter and more succinct. I’d tell you it’s about a wife’s attempt to understand the pull of her husband’s native land, a war-torn, volcano/earthquake prone El Salvador, on him, his present, past and future. I’d tell you it’s about a mother’s desire to leave her son a legacy from a far off place, stories, relatives, knowledge. I’d also tell you it’s about the good people, people who care about others less fortunate, loyalty, and humanity. And I’d tell you that most of all, it’s about family.

I, like Ms. Kephart, grew up in suburban America and the family stories and history I can leave my children are scant. They never really knew their grandparents who were born here, let alone my grandparents who were eastern European transplants. There were never stories passed down to me that I can pass along to the next generation. So I understand Ms. Kephart’s desire to give herself and her son something more. And it’s quite a family that Ms. Kephart married into: extensive, successful, caring, loving.

Still Love provides some history for context, but it’s mostly impressions and feelings. Being a shy person myself, I can’t imagine her first visit to El Salvador, plunked in the midst of a group of Spanish speaking family she’d never met and not understanding the language. Add onto that, its violent history and abject poverty, and any suburbanite would be  ‘out of his/her element’, to say the least.

Beth brings all this together in a wonderfully written, entrancing memoir. El Salvador becomes real. The family becomes real. Ms. Kephart’s photos at the beginning of each chapter add vision to what the mind imagines as you read the book. However, there are photos one would love to see that aren’t there. She mentions a time when she and Bill are sitting in a tree and someone took their picture. Or the beautiful girl, Ana Gabriella, Beth’s niece by marriage, whose mother has disappeared.

The one thing I can understand is the El Salvadorian’s ties to the land. She describes the painstaking process her in-laws went through to buy farmland and get it ready for planting coffee. I can understand the draw of growing crops, the beauty as they mature and bear fruit. Spending a lot of weekends in farm country, the beauty of rolling hills, of black dirt, of row upon row of growing things is overwhelming and, were I to own a piece of that, I would do everything in my power to keep it. So it is no surprise that after an earthquake destroys their farm, the first thing Bill’s mother thinks about is rebuilding.

I just realized how much I’ve rambled, so I’ll end by saying Still Love in Strange Places will take you to far off places and bring you back home again, all the wiser for the journey.

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Jordan Sonnenblick writes great books. He somehow manages to blend serious issues with humor to come up with readable, fun middle grade books and so it is with Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip.

Peter Friedman is an ace pitcher. He gives 110%. So when his arm begins hurting, he keeps going, going, gone…at least his pitching arm, that is. The doctors say he’ll never pitch again. Actually, he’ll never play baseball again.

Since he was a kid, he’d go on photo shoots with his grandfather, a professional photographer. So, Peter takes a photography class, in order to replace his sports passion with a hobby. In class he meets the adorable Angelika, who seems to like him.

Curveball is the photography version of Ron Koertge’s Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, another great book, in which the protagonist writes poetry when he’s sidelined with mono.

In Curveball, Peter grapples with: (a) telling AJ, his best friend and baseball teammate, that he’ll no longer be able to play baseball, (b) the telltale signs that his grandfather may have Alzheimer’s Disease and (c) the ins and outs of the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship of a high school freshman.

I remember vividly loving the grumpy nursing home character Sol from Notes from a Midnight Driver. Well, in Curveball, Grandpa is exactly the opposite. He’s loveable, supportive, fun. AJ is a great best friend, the kind that can be a pain sometimes, but always cares. Angelika is the perfect girlfriend.

Sonnenblick continues his winning streak with Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip. I’m glad to see he hasn’t lost his grip. It’s an all around winner.

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