Sunday, December 19, 2010

'Awake Till the End,' a book of crime short stories by Alysse Aallyn


"Awake Till the End" came to our office about a week or so ago, and our editor handed it off to me to take a read. The book is a collection of short stories from a Bolton, Conn., author who has published several other full-length psychological thrillers and I was eager to dive in. The book comes out next month, so it was a kick to have an early issue to read, too.

But I was disappointed.

Ms. Aallyn's books are not typical thrillers, despite Agatha Christie being an old favorite from her childhood. That's always been OK, but these stories just don't give me enough to work with. With some stories, I'd turn a page and the story ended, and I didn't just want the characters to stick around, I wanted to know what the heck happened! It's one thing to leave a reader to discern, from their own experiences, what likely took place. It's another to be so cryptic at times that your reader is just left confused.

With other stories, too much is assumed on behalf of the reader and the action is too fast, with too little actual detail.

I admit, short stories can be the hardest form of story to write. To get the time frame, action and details all balanced correctly is never easy and not something many writers have actually done well. This is, I am sad to say, another example of one that didn't quite come together. I know she has another novel coming out soon; I'd save my pennies for that one.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

NANCY DREW: Murder on ice


There's something special about Nancy Drew. Those of you who have read the teen series know what I'm talking about.

My family wasn't much into reading, so except for a few books tucked away in the attic, we didn't keep many around the house. Perhaps that's why my first book that I got one Christmas, a Nancy Drew book, was extra special.

I remember reading "Murder on Ice" (in Swedish) as I was crawled up in bed under warm blankets on a very cold Christmas Day.

Nancy and her boyfriend Ned Nickerson, along with friends Bess and George, go on a ski weekend in the snowy mountains of Vermont. But a strange set of circumstances leads Nancy to believe someone is trying to hide something, and it could have dangerous consequences.

When I first read the book, I had never been to Vermont. But it sounded like a magical place with small, charming towns, steep mountains and lots of areas available for skiing.

Of course, many years later as I started to ski regularly at Mt. Snow, I remembered my childhood book and just had to find another copy of it (the original Christmas present ended up with a younger cousin).

Thanks to the internet and the ability so search for very specific terms (Nancy Drew + Vermont + skiing), I quickly found myself a used copy and ordered it.

I've re-read it every winter since, just out of nostalgia. Since it's written for the younger readers, it's a very quick read. But it gives me the same warm, fuzzy feeling inside every time. Almost like if I was home again for Christmas, in my childhood bedroom, with a comforting blanket on my lap.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

'Smoke, Fire and Angels' by Mark Robinson


I can't say why I picked this book up again after all this time, but there it is.

This is the gripping, first-person account of one of the drivers hit by an out-of-control truck barreling down Avon Mountain on July 29, 2005. Mark Robinson's car was one of those in the front row, at the intersection of Routes 44 and 10 by Avon Old Farms Inn, facing a truck that was unable to stop, racing down the mountain during morning rush hour traffic at speeds estimated at well over 70 miles per hour.

Five people died as a result of that accident. It was one of the most horrific scenes a lot of people ever had or ever will see, including police and firefighters. The debris was strewn over a stretch of road as long as a football field.

I know a lot of people wonder why I'd read a book about such a terrible tragedy, so many years after it happened. Two reasons. One: Mark Robinson might not be a writer by profession, but he interviewed people, from survivors to emergency workers to insurance people, and he did a boatload of research, so the stories he tells about each and every person involved really come to life. Two: The proceeds from this book go to a fund to help those most seriously affected by the crash, which makes it more than just a book.

It's a frightening story, a sometimes heartbreakingly sad story, and certainly one that angers at times, given what the owner of the truck company did. But it's also an uplifting story, because of the way people came to help that day, and because of the people you get to know and care about, who were, through a quirk of fate and timing, caught in the line of fire of the truck that morning.

Maybe I also re-read it because each and every day now, my husband travels that same route to work.

This story isn't made up; it's not make believe. It's real, and it happened to people that were and are just like you and me, people that live just up the road or work in the next office. And I don't want to forget any of them. And the next time our legislature decides it would be a good idea to grant exceptions to safety requirements, whether it's for commercial or private interests, I'm going to be paying attention, and make sure my voice gets heard.