Category Archives: This n’ That

Review of A Stone’s Throw by James W. Ziskin

Review of                                                                                                   Susan Courtright

A Stone’s Throw

James W. Ziskin


What do Nora Charles, Miss Jane Marple and Ellie Stone have in common?  None of these three distaff detectives knew much, if anything, about racetracks, jockeys and horseflesh prior to the plots; they are perfectly adept at murder and racketeering, however, and didn’t have to go far to find those challenges.

Nora Charles was accompanying her husband, Nick, and some of his rather ‘Interesting’ friends to the local track when murder greeted them before they even parked their car.  {Shadow of the Thin Man, 1941).  Jane Marple was collecting for a charity auction at her own local racetrack when, up pops a body. (Murder at the Gallop, 1963). And Ellie Stone?


Fresh from the sting of her first encounter in Los Angeles – “You’re pretty – just not Hollywood pretty”, Ellie is trolling the police band in August of 1962, and hears about a fire in an abandoned foaling barn at Tempesta Farm, roughly midway between her hometown newspaper in New Holland, New York, and Saratoga Springs. Miss Stone is also unfamiliar with racetracks, paramutuel betting and the underworld of horse racing; she is, one knows, an investigative reporter, and so she sets out in the night.  Amidst the acrid and blackened skeleton of what was once a large barn, she is first on scene to identify remains in the rubble of two people – one with a wisp of racing silk clinging to the neck.

These are the days when shoe leather finds the answers:  Who are the victims? What were they doing in the barn? Why is there an apparent bullet hole in the skull of one? And for the extra points and indictments – who killed them and why?

This sixth outing in the Ellie Stone mystery series by James W. Ziskin, is, as always, plot-perfect; additionally, we are treated to more in the life of the ‘girl reporter’, who never minds getting her hands dirty and her throat lubricated with Dewar’s.   Ellie’s best friend Fadge, who has seemingly ‘perfected a system’ for horse betting provides a crash course in the world of racing and introductions to the seedy and seemingly seedy who populate Saratoga Springs.  Since the local sheriff is less than interested Ellie’s good friend, Frank Olney, takes over the investigation.  From then on, it’s hard work – tracking down and dismissing leads with the aid of the researcher at the paper and the town librarian. Ellie is dogged in her pursuit of the doers.  Ziskin never sacrifices plot points for boozy and ill-advised romance that comes her way, nor is the pursuit of justice for the dead and the solution of the murders compromised by Fadge’s habits, which do really worry Ellie.  She is a tough woman with a marshmallow heart – and that heart is given freely to a beautiful thoroughbred who just doesn’t like to race!

What a timing treat!  In the middle of the 2018 race for the Triple Crown, James W. Ziskin and Seventh Street Books give the reader a penetrating dive into the romance and rackets of the racing game. Dick Francis would be proud.

Publish date:  June 5, 2018


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F. Scott Fitzgerald & the Tragedy of Hollywood

via F. Scott Fitzgerald & the Tragedy of Hollywood

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Review of Cast the First Stone (James W. Ziskin)

Cast the First Stone by James W. Ziskin

Ellie Stone is one dogged reporter.  Tagged by her boss at the New Holland Republic to cover hometown-boy-makes-good Tony Eberle as he begins his first feature starring role in Hollywood, Ellie climbs aboard a TWA bound for Los Angeles, even as her nemesis at the paper turns down the assignment because of a premonition.  Apparently her publisher doesn’t mind if the plane goes down with Ellie aboard.  He doesn’t like ‘girl reporters’ anyhow.

Does a gal from a small upstate New York newspaper swoon with the glamour of Tinseltown? Not hardly.  Tony’s missing; his producer is found at the bottom of his canyon mansion – quite dead. In order to find Tony, Ellie, and an assorted file folder of friendly paparazzi, over-friendly LAPD officer, telescope- wielding Industry folks in the canyon, and rival newspaper reporter breathing down her neck, circumnavigates the Los Angeles area, even out to Barstow. Tony is nowhere to be found.  The production company bosses enlist her; the LAPD puts Tony at the top of the suspects list; her publisher is threatening her.  Ellie Stone has no time to go GaGa over LaLaLand.

Ever the linguist, James Ziskin paints a succinct and colorful Hollywood scene circa 1962.  He weaves plot and characters together like a sports car getting through traffic on the 405.

 Cast the First Stone slips past the highly-regarded and multi-nominated previous Ellie Stone novel, Styx & Stone. Watching Ellie deflect studio types with their spurious intents, dusty has-beens, and sleazy wannabes is deliciously fun.  Following the plot through the canyons, out to the desert and back, and in and out of sound stages challenges the reader as well as Ellie – no matter the obstacles Ellie always gets her story, filed on time.  Cast the First Stone is On Sale June 7, 2017. Reserve your copy now.

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The Day I Became “Your Kind”

What do you know about Charles Bukowski? Let’s see… We explored DVD interviews and documentaries, books, poetry collections.  Ready to check out.  Dismal when it comes to those plastic …

Source: The Day I Became “Your Kind”

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The Day I Became “Your Kind”

What do you know about Charles Bukowski?

Let’s see…

We explored DVD interviews and documentaries, books, poetry collections.  Ready to check out.  Dismal when it comes to those plastic thingies that some machine that looks like a throwback to the Middle Ages removes for the unsuspecting library member; therefore I get in line, rather than self check-out.  It’s been a long few days, from November 8, Tuesday, until now, Sunday, November 13.  It seems like years.  Lack of sleep, active campaigning on several fronts, the Tule Fog descending over my mind and heart, being stuck in the middle of fight-flight with no energy remaining to make a coherent decision.

Wow, look at this!  New member with application in hand in front of me and behind me, and behind that young mom with her two bright children, another man.  Three new members on a Sunday afternoon!

Great conversation with the young gentleman of approximately 8 years about the woman at the check-out counter with a large stack of picture books and DVDs.  He thought she was maybe a teacher and asked what I thought.  I told him I was a writer, so I look at a person in a situation and try to imagine what they’re doing.  My guess was that perhaps she had a sick child at home, and she was bringing him/her some entertainment.  He solemnly gazed at her and agreed that that was a good guess.  He asked me why I was in line, and I told him I wasn’t very good with the plastic thingies on the DVDs.  He nodded.  I told him and his little sister that they would really like the Childrens’ Programs at the library.  Their mother was interested in all the programs offered at our library, which for the 5th year was rated among the highest in the nation.  I expressed that I was quite proud to be a volunteer.

Behind the last new member was a neatly-dressed woman who was grumbling somewhere in the background of the conversation.  She expressed her displeasure with the amount of time check-out was taking, and stated that there should be one checker just for the new members.  I mentioned that she could self-check, but her reply was that her books were overdue.  We all smiled indulgently.  Stepping out of line, she grumbled her way up to the counter.  Now at two hours to closing on a Sunday afternoon, there wasn’t a plethora of check-out assistants, and she came back in line quite agitated.  “I can’t believe that people would come in here on a Sunday afternoon to join the library,” she huffed.  Wanting to diffuse the situation and feeling protective of our new members, I replied, softly,

We don’t behave that way in our city. Particularly, we encourage our new friends here at the library.

Her reply was one I could never have anticipated:

“I can’t wait for Trump to take care of your kind.”  She spat that out, loudly.

There was a line of open-mouthed patrons, to say the least.  Sensing the lack of control, I immediately locked eye-contact with her and advised her that she should dial it back or I was going to call security.  I said it quietly, slowly and firmly.  She shut up.

After I checked out, I went out to the patio for my meeting time with a Texas librarian with whom I had become friendly.  We discussed the situation, but particularly, what “your kind” could mean.  As some backstory, I was born and raised in a white, Catholic and Protestant town, and didn’t interact with multiple faiths, ethnicities, races, and sexual orientations until I went to UCLA as a high school junior.  It was a rich experience, and continues to this day.  I have stood beside my Jewish friends when dissed, my Muslim friends when shunned, and my black and Hispanic friends when put upon.  I was bullied only once, in fourth grade when I had just gotten my first pair of glasses.  It was a boy on the playground who called me Four Eyes – I retorted that my four eyes were four times as likely to spot anything than his obviously blind perspective…or something to that effect.  Now I was “your kind”.

The Tule Fog lifted as quickly as it had descended.  My thinking and my loving returned, and I was, instead of being enraged, curiously pleased that I finally understood what my friends had been, and were still enduring.

I don’t know what set her off.  Maybe it was the safety pin I was wearing.  Maybe it was envy of my city.  I don’t know, and frankly I don’t care.  Hate, like bile rising from an upset stomach, has been offered a voice since the election.  And it is everywhere, in people I never would have suspected – people I shop next to, in book discussions, on the bus, in the family.  It was always there.  It now has been given a voice.

I Am Your Kind. I Am About Love And Kindness.  I Will Endure.





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Nate’s New Normal: A Day in the Life (Chapter One)

“Nate’s New Normal: A Day in the Life”

My name is Nate. Actually my name is Nathaniel after a famous American, I am told. Nate just sounds better to me and to those around me. “Those around me” include my younger brother Ted, named for Edward M. Kennedy who is four – not Senator Kennedy who passed away – but Ted. Also included are my mother Nancy and father Brian, both named for their grandparents.
This Nathaniel was a prodigious writer and Renaissance Man. I am neither, but there’s time since I’m only twelve. I go to a ‘special department’ in my school, and it’s not necessary to drag out all the ‘short bus’ jokes you know, because I walk the few blocks from my home to Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School. Yep you got it!
I want to tell you a little about the classes I take before I go any further. Thanks to the small city I live in, Santa Monica California, there are numerous facilities for a boy like me: that is, a boy who is a mathematics whiz and currently testing post-graduate levels, reader but not sharer of what was read, artist of some acclaim although nobody but me seems to know what I’m doing with the watercolor painting that I enjoy the most.
Now back to that first appellation – the math geek: it is quite expensive to educate and raise in general a boy like me. Understand that I believe I am absolutely normal – until I look around and see the other kids in my classes. Well, okay, you can throw in the teachers and the cafeteria lady whose name is Myrtle and is probably my best friend at school. I work for a puzzle company that my father heard about in his job as a newspaper reporter. So I am stoked that I can contribute some money for my education and for my family. I find great comfort in the fact that my dad reminds me constantly that both HE and I are odd-men out, since newspapers seem to be dying in the ever-expanding world of the Internet, and I am what is commonly known as autistic.
This is a silly determinant for a twelve-year-old who reads mathematics, algebra, trig, calculus and is now dipping his toe into physics. Just my opinion, you understand. How many other twelve-year-olds do you know who have a paying job while going to middle school? I mean a really high-paying gig – I test puzzles. All kinds of puzzles – number puzzles, really any kind of puzzle that involves numerical theories or practice. I am even going to interview with some guy from the federal government who thinks I might be a good employee to test their number puzzles.
You see, and this is really important to me: I live in my own world most of the time. That does not mean that I am stupid, aloof or disinterested. It just means that the connector between me and others is frayed, like a rope. Not broken but you have to be careful with it until you figure out how to reweave the rope so it’s stronger. That’s the way Myrtle explains it to me and to anybody else who’ll listen. She has a son who is in the same predicament as me. He is all grown up now and has a job with an IT firm. If you work at an IT firm it’s pretty much you and the equipment you know; there isn’t so much a need for talking to other people and you can get a lot more accomplished as well. Notice that I say I am in a predicament – that’s all. In my world the sun shines brightly, the palm trees sway in the breeze at the beach, dogs bark and kittens mew. It’s not all that different. I just have difficulty maintaining enough contact to have a conversation with another person.
Here’s my predicament in a nutshell: if, and I am guarded about that ‘if’, I can get that connector to work as well as other kids, will I lose my super-abilities which matter to me so much? This is a quandary. I mull possible answers to this question several times a day. Is it worth it for me to give up my puzzle-jobs so that I can chat with the girl who sits next to me in biology? Her name is Angie, and I believe she is quite pretty. I believe this because I see and hear what the other guys say about her. I have never spoken to Angie, but I look at her and she looks back at me and smiles. I think next week I may smile back at her. We’re going to dissect rats next week and it seems like a perfectly normal thing to do, to smile back at her.
I have problems with this ‘normal’ thing, as you may have figured out. I do not know what the word means. I have looked up the word in all kinds of dictionaries and encyclopedias online. There seem to be as many definitions of the word ‘normal’ as there are people who are writing about it. It makes my head ache and I must eat supper. Nancy, my mom, is really nice about supper. I should mention a few words about that. I eat my supper in a special plate that has sections in it. Nancy and I found these plates at the 99-cent store of all places. After I picked it out, I pulled an extra one out for my brother Ted. They are hard plastic and have several colors in each of the sections. I like to eat that way, with the food separated. Ted tries to copy me, but he gets all of his food mixed up together, so he has green beans sticking out of his mashed potatoes and pudding where the meat should be. Nancy says that is normal for a four-year-old. There’s that word again.
After dinner I have homework and some exercises that I do on the computer. I must tell you this though – most of the ‘games’ on the computer are not as good as the ones in my head. This is the main reason that I want to work with others to fix that frayed rope of communication. I have to be able to explain what I want to do! What I want to create and what I want to do with my life. I’m at that age you know where I should be thinking about these things. Is that possibly what is meant by ‘normal’? Maybe that is my new normal. In other words, not the ‘normal’ that other people think is normal, but my very own new normal. Somehow I think that Ted would like that, since he loves to play games and likes to have books read to him. Nancy and Brian would like it because they could talk to me and I could answer better and they wouldn’t worry. I know they worry. Myrtle would like it because she wouldn’t have to say “Use your words, Nate” instead of my pointing to whatever I want to eat. And last, I think that Angie would like it, because I’m afraid that she isn’t going to like rat dissection very much without her partner whispering comforting words.
Must go now. Nancy is getting ready to read us a story before Brian takes us up for bath and bed. Horton Hears a Who is the story tonight. Ted laughs and laughs about that story. I think tonight I am going to smile.

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5 Published Books – 5 Years – or 10,000 Hours | Savvy Book Writers

. . Building up your readership takes lots of time, so it is surprising, that some authors dream of their first book as a potential bestseller, and don’t

via 5 Published Books – 5 Years – or 10,000 Hours | Savvy Book Writers.

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