Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book releases celebrated Saturday at Saluté

   RICHMOND - Richmond residents Lily Iona MacKenzie and Michael Zimmerman celebrated publication their recently released books Saturday at Saluté Restaurant in Marina Bay from 4 to 6 p.m.
     As part of the festivities, there were appetizers and drinks.
      Lily's book - Curva Peligrosa - is described by author Steve Bauer as "a wildly inventive and amusing novel."
     Michael's book, Tyrants of the Heart is a look into the brilliant and often impenetrable literary world of James Joyce. Michael draws upon his years of experience as an English professor and psychoanalyst to uncover conflicts in Joyce's characters.
     Both books are also available through and Barnes and Noble.

Monday, October 9, 2017

'A Night in Venice' Friday in The Point

   POINT RICHMOND - Kaleidoscope Cafe in Point Richmond Friday night will feature music, a talk by local author and a performance by an acting troupe directed by Masquers Playhouse all beginning at 7 p.m.
     Beer, wine, coffee, tea and other refreshments are available to purchase from Kaleidoscope.
     A Night in Venice is a celebration of the publication of the novel, Venetian Blood by Point Richmond author Christine Evelyn Volker.
    The evening will begin with music played by the Town Quartet, followed by a presentation by Volker - including a short reading.
     Following the reading, actors will perform an dramatic scene of an interogation featured early the novel.
Christine Volker
     Volker's novel will be on sale at Kaleidoscope during the evening. She will also be available to sign copies of her book.
     Venetian Blood has been getting excellent reviews since hitting the market this summer - including this one published in July in The Point - Arts: Mystery & Intrigue Flow in 'Venetian Blood'

Thursday, September 21, 2017

'Hillbilly Elegy' filled with cultural insight

   POINT RICHMOND - The tales recounted in J.D. Vance's memoir, Hillbilly Elegy (published in 2016)  can be as disturbing as they sometimes seem farfetched - the stuff of fiction or some badly written television program.
     But Vance's anecdote-packed book is true - at least to the best of his memory. And his memory is good, frequently backed up with research included in this enlightening portrait of growing up in Kentucky and Ohio.
     The full title of the book is Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a family and Culture in Crisis. It sounds almost like an academic study. But Vance's recounting of his growing up is not the stuff of academic tomes. It's real life, gritty, and at times almost too painful to read.
J.D. Vance
    "Teachers didn't tell us that we were too stupid or poor to make it. Nevertheless, it was all around us, like the air we breathed."
     Vance takes the reader on a cultural odyssey through Kentucky and Ohio while talking about growing up. He grew up in an big, extended family which by most measures would be labelled dysfunctional. Yet it worked, sort of, and Vance eventually did a stint in U.S. Marines, and graduated from Ohio State and Yale Law school.
     Vance explains in detail how for the hillbilly-Appalachian communities, everything was family.
     Hillbilly Elegy provided some special insights for me, growing up in the Southern Tier of New York State.
     That region, shown in the map below had - and probably still has - a sprinkling of people who resemble folks with the cultural norms and attitudes Vance talks about at length.
     Hillbilly Elegy is Vance's first book, but likely not his last.
     It's on the new book shelf at the Point Richmond library.
(Review by Michael J. Fitzgerald)

Friday, September 8, 2017

'Wicked Bugs' - all those not-so-nice insects

   POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - The shelves at the Richmond Public Library's Westside branch on Washington Street are filled with plenty of thrilling mysteries penned by familiar authors like Nelson DeMille, Tom Clancy, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich and local mystery writer, Christine Volker.
    But among the books is a non-fiction, science-based tome that will make your skin crawl.
    Or at least itch a bit if what you read makes wonder if some many-legged critter is about to bite.
    Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects is a well-documented compendium of tales about bugs of every shape and size.
    There are lots of familiar names: Brown Recluse, Cockroach, Deer Tick, Scorpion and Sand Fly.
     But chapters talking about the lesser-known - the Formosan Subterranean Termite, the Death Watch Beetle and the Assassin Bug - could keep you awake at night, too.
    The Formosan Subterranean Termite is one of the culprits behind the massive levee failures in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit.
    The termites love to munch nearly everything. That includes the walls that were supposed to protect the city. The walls are partly made of sugar cane waste, a termite snack. And officials had been warned five years before Katrina that the termites had weakened the flood barriers.
    Another fun fact for New Orleans residents? The Formosan Subterranean Termite can live for up to 25 years.
    Wicked Bugs was written by Amy Stewart, whose other writing includes the book, Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities.
   Wicked Bugs was published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, North Carolina and is on the shelf at the Richmond Public Library's Westside branch.
    Below is the first page of the introduction.
(Review by Michael J. Fitzgerald)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

'Wind River' - a dramatic must-see film

   POINT RICHMOND - The film Wind River is so gripping a tale, it's unlikely most in-theater viewers will even glance at their watches at any juncture in this fast-moving, one hour and 47-minute film.
Jeremy Renner
    And this is a must-see-in-the-theater movie.
    The full-screen winter Wyoming scenery is haunting. Plus, the grittiness of life on the Indian reservation is best viewed on the big screen - large enough for it to hit hard.
    It's not pretty.
   But that not-prettiness helps highlight the resilience of the residents of the reservation, reeling from the murder of an 18-year-old girl. The Native Americans are the descendants of great warriors. And it shows.
   Jeremy Renner - as a veteran game tracker - does a steady job as the film's hero. Underneath a classically western steely persona, Renner's character is a man tortured by the earlier loss of his own child and a divorce.
Elizabeth Olsen and Graham Green
   After he discovers the body of the murdered girl, he ends up paired with a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based FBI agent (played by a doe-eyed Elizabeth Olsen) to solve the crime. At first they are as unlikely a pair as Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. But that resolves itself quickly.
 One of the best supporting roles in the film is played by Graham Greene as the tribal police chief. His ability to convey complex emotions with just his facial expressions is amazing.

   Wind River is fast-paced and directed nearly to perfection.
   It also offers several moral/ethical questions to ponder in post-movie hours.
  And it's a film of details and nuance - which is why taking yours eyes off the screen for even a moment is a bad idea.
   If you only see one movie this fall, watch Wind River.

Running for her life - barefoot 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cafe Society presents reading by novelist Margaret Wilkerson Sexton Friday, Sept. 1

   POINT RICHMOND - Novelist Margaret Wilkerson Sexton will be reading from her new novel, A Kind of Freedom, Friday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. at Kaleidoscope Coffee 109 Park Place in Point Richmond.

     Her presentation is sponsored by Cafe Society.

     Cafe Society is a group of Bay Area writers, storytellers and artists who are dedicated to presenting the work of others.

     Sexton's novel has been praised by Natalie Baszile, author of Queen Sugar, as "A book for our time."

    The reading is open to the public. Food, beer and wine are available for purchase.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mystery & intrigue flow in 'Venetian Blood'

   Point Richmond, Calif. - Christine Evelyn Volker's novel Venetian Blood fairly drips with intrigue and mystery in a complicated plot that unfolds gradually in the city of Venice, Italy.
     And there are enough words and phrases in Italian to keep anyone in love with Italy and Italian culture happy for a long time.

     The subtitle of Venetian Blood - Murder in a Sensuous City - gives an excellent clue about much of the focus of the book. As strong as the characters are, the city of Venice is probably as major a player as any of the various people who move in and out of the chapters seamlessly. Anyone who has been in Venice will recognize a lot of the landscape, history and descriptions of the boats that ply the famous canals.

     The plot involves murder, love affairs, money, art and in some spots international intrigue on the level of an Ian Fleming novel.
     Oh, there is a journalist character, too, whose sources provide a lot of their own intrigue and interest as the main character, an American woman named Anna - lurches from an illicit affair into danger.
Christine Evelyn Volker
     Venetian Blood occasionally bogs down slightly in the author's carefully ornate descriptions of art, architecture and the many drawing room scenes. But those well-written passages might well turn out to be the favorites of some readers patient enough to wait for the next plot developments.
     Throughout Venetian Blood, there is an undercurrent that hints at a surprise ending.
     And hoo-boy, it certainly is a good one!
     The author keeps the surprise wrapped up tightly until nearly the last page of the book.
     Venetian Blood should leave any reader smiling as they finish it.
     Venetian Blood is a publication of She Writes Press and is available in August from and book retailers.

Reviewed by Michael J. Fitzgerald