BOOK REVIEW: Crack Open the Spine of the Dragon

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Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J. Anderson -Tor Books (June 4, 2019)

It is possible to read every book written by Kevin J. Anderson; difficult, yes, but not unheard of. Crazier things have happened. Other writers Hulk-out with envy at his prolific nature, and not only that, his books are engaging. That’s always a bonus.

In his latest offering, Spine of the Dragon, Anderson tours readers through the popular genre of intellectual fantasy fiction, which leans more literary than, say, those old Conan pulps, but it’s just as adventurous. For me, someone who’s read The Saga of the Seven Suns series and many of Anderson’s other science fiction (Dune for life!) titles, delving into an all new fantasy realm was a welcome change. With that pesky Game of Thrones now decided, and no new George R.R. Martin book on the horizon (same for my other favorite, Patrick Rothfuss), there’s no better time to meet the ancient wreths, explore the Commonwealth and Ishara, and wake the dragon!

The book begins with introductions, jumping as Anderson does, from character to character, then back again, until we the readers feel the rhythm of the work. We meet King Adan Starfall, the disgraced Brava Elliel, King Kollanan, and others, though not in a relaxed way. There’s a nasty sand storm, an attack from the sea at Mirrabay, insane monsters, and the return of a frightening long-gone army all within the first fifty pages. And did I mention the maps? It’s not worth raising your sword if there isn’t a map at the beginning of a fantasy book. Raise your sword high, because there’s more than one in Spine of the Dragon.

While some readers may see a few similarities, such as the frostwreths, who felt a bit like White Walkers to me; and the book’s toggle switch between characters may remind them of other fantasy novels, which Anderson has done forever by the way, there’s a lot to nerd over in Spine. The backstory of the wreths fascinated me, as did the godling’s relationship with the Isharans, and there’s so much to explore. As with Anderson’s other books, you’re never ready for them to end when they do.

And if there’s one thing Anderson is good at, it’s world building. Spine presents a well-molded civilization with a crisp plot and intriguing characters, told in that winning Anderson style, which for me is like hanging out with an old friend. As with most tales of magic, strange creatures, and stalwart warriors; you just can’t get it all in one book. So be on the lookout for book two already in the sandy Commonwealth pipeline!

Buy Spine of the Dragon here!

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5 Historic Monterey Crimes and Criminals

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It’s not easy to dwell on Monterey California’s criminal underbelly when picturing the angelic shoreline found along the Central Coast, but even windswept beauty has its ugly side. As a reporter I learned this firsthand when I worked the crime beat in Sedona, Arizona.

Never trust the postcard.

Monterey has had its share of interesting crimes over the years, from cold cases to mysterious fires that have destroyed communities and lives. Below are five of the area’s most interesting crimes and criminals, culled from a variety of sources. Some glamorous, others terrifying, these Central Coast stories are the stuff of legend.


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Tiburcio Vasquez
  1. The outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez

Vasquez started his criminal career at the young age of 17 after fleeing the scene of a murder with his cousin, the outlaw Anastacio Garcia. Thus began a bloody, dangerous life of crime and womanizing, the latter of which became something of a trademark for the man and would ultimately lead to his downfall. He was hanged in 1875. His last breath consisted of a single word, “Pronto.”

While his deeds took him far and wide, Tiburcio would often stay in Monterey County. His family lived across the street from the Monterey County Jail in downtown Monterey. Tiburcio was quite familiar with both locations.

Learn more about him here.


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Manchester, a town that burned to the ground.
  1. Massacre Cave

What happened in Massacre Cave? Newspaper accounts reported a number of skeletons found there near the long-lost town of Manchester, which suspiciously burned to the ground around 1900, leaving a few people missing in the process. Decades later, the skeletal discovery occurred, leaving many to speculate as to what exactly occurred during this gold-crazy era of Monterey County’s history. It should also be noted there are those who claim the area is not the site of a murder but a Native burial ground.

Read more here.


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  1. The lynching of Matt Tarpey

A determined crowd converged on the Monterey Jail in 1873 to settle things with alleged murderer, Matthew Tarpey, who had been jailed for shooting a woman in the back over a land squabble. Tarpey, a well-to-do member of a vigilante squad that operated in Santa Cruz and Monterey County, expected help to come for him. It didn’t. He was hung on a Monday evening after being forcibly removed from the jail by a lynch mob.

Get the Tarpey story right here.


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The 1967 Cannery Row fire.
  1. The Cannery Row Fire of 1967

Arson was believed to be the cause of the Carmel Canning Company fire in 1967 that caused more than $250 million in damages to Cannery Row, which happened to be a tad seedier than the tourist mecca it is today. Despite being less than glamorous, more than 65 firefighters responded to the scene and quickly doused the Christmas Eve fire. Perhaps too quickly for the liking of whoever set the blaze.

See more here.


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One of the newspaper headlines from 1977.
  1. The grisly murders of four Seaside women

The year 1977 wasn’t an ordinary one for residents of Seaside, California. While crime was more common there than it is today, the discovery of four female family members stabbed to death made for shocking, horrifying headlines. Grandmother Josephine Smith, her daughter Suzanne Harris, Suzanne’s daughter Rachel Harris, and Suzanne’s niece Renee Ferguson were each found murdered in their home. While a family relative was eventually captured, the murders had the small community on edge.

Read about the case here.

 

 

The Media, that blobby entity for good

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It’s super easy to blame the media for not covering the news we want. Whether or not it’s true, we blame them because they’re an easy target – a blobby, nebulous entity with an ulterior motive. And even though we live on a planet where everyone videos everything, where everyone wants to be an influencer, and everyone under 50 wants to enjoy viral Brad Pitt-level success, there remains a need for journalism.

  • Why didn’t the media cover Puerto Rico better?
  • Why isn’t the media coming down harder on Trump after that crazy speech?
  • The media won’t cover female presidential candidates?
  • Why isn’t the media right where I want them to be right when I expect it?

Is it possible those who ask aren’t watching or reading enough news? Are they asking “Where’s the media coverage of (this story) or (that story)?” on social media because they only get their news from social media? Does it need to be written that news on social media is cherry-picked and not all-inclusive of the journalistic engine at large?

Does it need to be written that news agencies follow trends like the rest of us, reporting on news that affects our daily lives, and even news we’ve told them we want to read? The Kardashians are famous because we’ve made them famous.

Listen, the media are people who report the news. Their role is not to editorialize your interests. They try, but they often fail. And it’s not their job. A reporter reports.

Imagine if no one offered news anymore and your only source of information came from social media. How much of it would you believe? Forget a socialist society, forget living under a dictatorship, we’d all be a labor class ruled by a few rich people who consider us no better than bugs. We’d be uninformed, uneducated, and have no voice.

That’s what the news is, a voice for the voiceless. It strives to create an informed populace. On it’s best day, it’s there to tell you why things happened the way they happened. On its worst day, it grovels to those who want to kill the messenger, then bitch when there’s no mail.

When complaining of media neglect, or a lack of reporting on something you find important, check yourself first by following simple rules of conduct.

  • Were these news agencies absent from this story because they’re understaffed? These days many are
  • Check online to verify your claim of news-neglect. There are probably stories
  • Question the source. Where did you get the information you’re sharing?
  • Lastly, question the motivation. Is there a reason this wasn’t covered in a satisfactory way? Remember the 2016 election; if you found it on social media and you can’t tell it’s from a reliable news agency, it’s click bait

If there’s one thing to take away from this rant it’s this; your blobby entities need support. We have to fight the trick. The real blobby, nebulous entity is the group trying to convince the public not to believe what they read and to even hate those who strive to give you a voice.

Down with those A-holes.

Top 5 Haunted Monterey County – Surprises

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Soledad’s haunted Los Coches Adobe in the rain.

There’s definitely a top five when it comes to the most haunted spots in Monterey County, but that’s not what I’m writing about today. Instead, I’m going to get a little personal. I’m going to delve into my thoughts on banging out my upcoming book, Haunted Monterey County (coming October 2019 from The History Press). A Top 5 Most Haunted Monterey County – Locations is coming, however, being that there are easily five that rise to the top – it’s just coming later.

Below are the top five things that surprised me while prepping for the book:

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    Did I pull off the authorly look at a rest stop? I damn well tried.

    Rest stops – If someone told me I’d be writing a book on ghosts and hauntings in the county, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I grew up hungry for Randall Reinstedt’s books. If someone told me that research would bring me to a rest stop outside of King City and that I would actually have fun going there, I would have spit out my coffee. Those who know me know I’m never without coffee. But as Han Solo once said, “All of it. It’s all true.” I did have a good time. It’s always fun to get out on a sunny Sunday for an adventure of the weird kind. You never know what can happen.

  2. The GooglesGoogle may not know I’m working on a book, but the Googles helped me locate many of the sites and forums where Central Coast-specific ghost stories are shared. This means, from now until the Googles is goggled (or the end of time), I will get alerts about ghosts. This isn’t a bad thing really, since I’ve already come across creepy stories I’ve never heard before – usually from places on the east coast. Why the hell is that? I still get alerts about Bakugan too, though it’s been years since my son wanted one.
  3. Excitement and some of the opposite – I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I’d get when news of this new addition to Monterey County’s ghost book collection broke, but the level of interest has given me a little bit of a pre-publishing high. Thank you to everyone who made that happen. There’s the opposite too, some who are less than thrilled to see another book on haunts summoned out of the Netherworld. I appreciate the curmudgeons! I am one. My hope is the book will appeal to them as well. There are stories in it that have appeared nowhere else. There’s history as well, plenty of it, which is why I enjoyed taking on this project. If the curmudgeons come away entertained, I’ll get even more high.
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    A glimpse of Paul’s work on my office laptop.

    Paul’s talent – Just doing the ghost book, and paying tribute to Mr. Reinstedt, was enough, but then the idea came along to get some art in it. There are photos, quite a few taken when I visited the haunted sites (like the rest stop), but having one of California’s top talents on board made it even cooler. Paul Van de Carr is an incredible artist as you’ll see in the pages of the book.

  5. The believers – I’m the first to admit I’ve never had a paranormal experience that I can recall. It’s not that I don’t believe, it’s just I don’t have the eyes for it. I can’t decorate my house in a fashionable way either. Don’t have the eyes for it. But there are plenty who do have the sight. They’ve seen a lot over the years too. While writing this book, I was (and still am) surprised at just how many people have stories, tales of that time they experienced something they just couldn’t explain. This book tells their stories, just as it tells history’s story.

Whitehurst’s Top Reads of 2018

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As 2019 beckons us into her titular embrace, I realize my literary to-be-read pile is something of a clean slate for the coming year. There are titles I know I want to read: my usual foray into the new Executioner novels, something by Stephen King, perhaps finish the last two Game of Thrones tomes, etc., What excites me most, however, are the books I have no idea about. The ones that are coming that I cannot foresee. Maybe that’s a bit too deep, but it’s got me on the edge of my seat. What will they be? Some will be culled from the authors below.

I read 22 books in 2018, ranging from the aforementioned Mack Bolan Executioner ebooks to non-fiction titles all about creating tighter sentences. Favorites that didn’t make my top five included Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (who would have thought it would grab me like that?), The Wise Man’s Fear (probably the best fantasy out there right now), and Clash of Kings (and I’m now trudging through the third one, but won’t be done before the new year). Let me glom on to that by saying Stephen King’s The Outsider got my motor running too.

Here’s the usual disclaimer – I read these books in 2018, but that doesn’t mean they came out this year. Some did, of course, but really these are just favorites I laid eyes on over ’18.

American Static by Tom PittsStatic-1.jpg

I hungered for a blast of literary danger and happened to pick up American Static at the right time. What starts as a deadly and compelling crime thriller; Tom’s dark, street-smart ride takes a grim twist, unfolding to reveal murderous political intrigue, a savage quest for the truth, and it happens to have a bit of romance, the sort that shares needles, but sweet nonetheless.

Snag your shock of Static here.

The Devil’s Necktie by John LansingNecktie-1

Author John Lansing has created a tough-as-they-come, but wholly believable character, in Jack Bertolino. I’ve read more than one of his adventures, and there are a few, including the latest book The Fourth Gunman. The Devil’s Necktie, the first book, was like a bomb going off. It came with everything us hardboiled mystery lovers crave: guns, intrigue, and the kind of writing most authors aspire to. Start with the first and stay for the rest of the series. Here’s hoping it lasts for a good long while.

Engage your Bertolino fixation here.

Mary Russell’s War by Laurie R. KingRussell-1

My dirty thirties were made all the more pure thanks to the wonderful Mary Russell series penned by Laurie R. King. For me, this is the continuation of Sherlock Holmes we all need. I see it as the only true canon next to Doyle’s original Holmes tales. Adding Mary to his retired life and continuing their shared adventures into my forties have been a true highlight of my middle life. I jumped back into the Holmes/Russell pool this year with Mary Russell’s War, which happens to be a great jumping-on point for anyone interesting in the high-thrill world of these two amazing actioneers.

Turn those pages here.

The Outlaw’s Ransom by Jennifer AshRansom

The Outlaw’s Ransom by Jennifer Ash is the first in a series of books written under the Folville Chronicles umbrella and it doesn’t disappoint, especially for Hood Heads (fans of Robin Hood lore). This is one hot romp of a tale from Ash and a surprise for me, as it landed outside of my normal assortment of books, which is undoubtedly why I found it memorable and something I’d strongly recommend to others.

Get your hands on it here. Or steal one from an entitled person and give it to someone with want.

Poughkeepsie Shuffle by Dietrich Kalteispoughkeepsieshufflecover

Poughkeepsie Shuffle deals with an ex-con named Jeff Nichols, a guy who jumps from a notorious jail back into the bristling criminal elements. But the thing is he’s a likable guy just trying to do right by the woman he loves. This book grabbed me from the get-go, Jeff grabbed me from the get-go, and I turned the pages hoping he’d make it out in one piece, or at least somewhat alive. In Dietrich’s gritty world of noir, there’s no guarantee the protagonist will come out on the breathable side of a coffin. But I had to know, which made this a great read.

Take a road trip to Poughkeepsie here.