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Archive for the ‘other authors’ Category

Review: The Sinister Superyacht

I enjoyed the first book in Ana T. Drew’s collection (The Murderous Macaron) and decided to give book three a try. I’m glad I did.

Pastry chef turned sleuth Julie remains witty and fun, delighting the reader with quotes like “Because, as humans, when there is nothing we want, it’s a tried and tested sign we’re dead.” Plus, her adventures as a temp crew member aboard a lavish yacht make for an enjoyable armchair adventure.

I have a fondness for those who bend (and even twist) the rules of any genre, so I was happy not to see the requisite dead body show up by page five. In fact, I had a fine time reading about life on the yacht before the murder. However, even I began to get antsy when 30% into my kindle copy everyone remained alive and healthy. (Fear not, murder does happen soon after.)

Author Drew does something else unusual in this series. She blends (no — she lightly feathers in) a subplot involving a past tragedy and possible psychic powers. In the first book, it seemed at odds with the light tone of the rest of her story, like chili powder in an orange chiffon cake. ( I like them both, just not together.) There is a second book in this series which I missed and I’ve discovered that some of the backstory behind this “chili powder” has been revealed in book two. That’s good to know.

Perhaps because I’ve encountered it before, however, sleuth Julie’s mental snapshots now seem more like chili powder in a chocolate cake — still odd but less unappealing. Perhaps this incongruous mix is growing on me.

I’ve already recommended Drew’s first book to others, and I’ll do the same with this one. I’ll probably pick up her second book and read it as well, just for fun. And honestly, no matter what one says in a review, there is no more sincere compliment than that.

(Read my review of The Murderous Macaron. For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Sinister Superyacht.)

Exclusive Excerpt from “The Salty Rose”

I host blog tours and every once in a while I get an exclusive excerpt. If it’s from a book I that impresses me, I like to share those excerpts here. Recently I got one from a historical fiction/fantasy novel that appears to involve more than romance. I’m intrigued. It’s called The Salty Rose.

This is how author Beth M. Caruso describes her book.

Author’s description

Marie du Trieux, a tavern keeper with a salty tongue and a heart of gold, struggles as she navigates love and loss, Native wars, and possible banishment by authorities in the unruly trading port of New Amsterdam, an outpost of the Dutch West India Company.

In New England, John Tinker, merchant and assistant to a renowned alchemist and eventual leader of Connecticut Colony, must come to terms with a family tragedy of dark proportions, all the while supporting his mentor’s secret quest to find the Northwest Passage, a desired trading route purported to mystically unite the East with the West.

As the lives of Marie and John become intertwined through friendship and trade, a search for justice of a Dutch woman accused of witchcraft in Hartford puts them on a collision course affecting not only their own destinies but also the fate of colonial America.

An Exclusive Excerpt for Us!

Chapter 7.

“Hello, Marie. Listen to Grandmamma so she can get a better look at you,” Sara said.

The midwife winked. “Yes, come, Marie. My granddaughter knows what’s best,” she said, smiling.

I guided them to a small room in the back of the tavern. In the exterior wall near the corner was the secret slot where the Indians who wanted a drink after hours placed their deer meat or other trade goods in hopes of a discreet exchange for liquor. My guests couldn’t see it since it was well hidden from the inside by a sliding facade.

“Sit, Marie, I need to see those feet. Are you still sick to your stomach?” she questioned.

I took a seat in a tall-backed wooden chair carved as a marriage present from Henri La Chaîne, a furniture maker and friend.

“No, it’s passed already. I’m fine, just a little tired but no more than with any other child,” I responded.

The midwife carefully placed her hand over my belly. “Do you feel her moving about?” she referred to the baby.

A loud crash emanated from the front of the tavern. The babe in my womb stirred abruptly in response.

“What’s this?” she cried.

We ran to the front, the three of us, to see what was the matter. Business in the tavern had been at a lull when I’d retreated to the back only a few minutes earlier.

On my way to the main room, I heard a man with an English accent screaming at Domingo.

“I won’t take a drink from a filthy rogue like you. Where’s your mistress?” He had just upended a table where Domingo had placed his drink and was ready to turn over some benches in his senseless rage. All my work of cleaning the tavern that morning was ruined in seconds.

Want to read more?

The book is available at:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Salty-Rose-Alchemists-Witches-Amsterdam/dp/1733373802

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-salty-rose-beth-m-caruso/1133991342

Review: The Code

The Code is based on the slick premise that two fictitious characters are allegedly telling the “true story” of how each of them created a celebrity.

Although I struggled with the initial concept of an unknown professor appearing sexy for no particular reason when seen on film, I squelched my inner cynic and read on. I’m glad I did as there is much I appreciated about this novel. Compelling writing. Exquisite details about the world of celebrities and those who make them. And most impressive of all, an excellent if unforgiving look at our culture.

One of many great quotes:

“Why do your powerful, rich friends want to know me? They already have everything.”

“They have everything but they never have enough. They’re addicted to novelty and the fulfillment of new dreams. You’re the new flavor.”

I also particularly liked Jessica, Albert’s pretension-adverse wife. She plays a fine foil to his growing immersion in his new life and her drab academic research into André Breton’s novel Nadja makes for an almost eerie comparison to Albert’s growing status as a star. 

There were things I liked less, however. I hoped the story would really be told through the eyes of the agents, at least mostly, but it isn’t even close. Although Albert’s agent Jack is involved from the beginning of his tale, most of the telling is done from Albert’s point of view, often involving his thoughts or scenes Jack knows nothing about.  Memphis, on the other hand, doesn’t even meet his agent Marcellus Moses till the second half of the book, making the premise even more flimsy with him. I suppose the reader is supposed to believe these two agents somehow know everything, including their creation’s inner monologues, but my ability to suspend disbelief wouldn’t stretch that far.

I found the brutality of the prison scenes difficult to read. I didn’t expect them and might have passed on the book altogether if I’d known. While I agree some of it was necessary to the story, I think even those with more of a stomach for such things would probably have appreciated it if the author had dialed it back a bit.

Like other novels with fascinating premises, the story is difficult to conclude and the only real option is for it to end as a tragedy. The author finds an interesting and unexpected way to do this, though, and it is one that ties everything together and states her thesis one more time. It works.

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Code.

The Power of Poetry

Poetry remains the one domain of words that usually fails to grab my attention but I perhaps that’s why the exceptions standout. Earlier today I listened to poet Amanda Gorman read her work The Hill We Climb’ at the presidential inauguration. And wow did she stand out.
Her vivacious delivery helped; I loved every minite of her presentation. I also found her use of words clever and even playful in spite of the seriousness of her topic. My favorite was “what just is isn’t always justice.”
Judging from the response on social media, I suspect she won many other non-poetry-appreciators over today, and that her final words “For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it” will be quoted many times over. I hope they are.
I seldom feature poetry on my blogs, but about a month ago I ran a feature on Utanu Maa, a Canadian poet originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and her recent book of poetry entitled “Rise and Fall of My Beloved” which she describes as “my own journey into unconditional love and care, and the resilience to deal with pain, loss, grief, to grieve, heal and continue with life after my brother’s death.”
My feature was part of a blog tour, and this one was set up so that I recieved a unique piece of her poetry post on my blog. I found it powerful and moving also, and seeing as I’m going on about poetry here, I am going to repost it below. I just want to say, if I keep finding myself exposed to to this kind of quality, I may have to decide I like poetry after all.

An Excerpt Just for Readers of This Blog

The Speech

He lacked the speech and was teased, mocked.

People regularly targeted, labelled, and bullied him.

They did not believe in his ability to learn and succeed,

They repeatedly told him loudly, in his face

And ears with intent to persuade him about himself.

They predestined him for failure because he was unable to speak.

He remained silent for a long time, listening carefully.

He observed motions on their lips; he absorbed words and sounds.

Then, one early morning, still in bed,

While everyone was in their last dream or nightmare,

And when time had healed and ended his grieving,

The miracle happened: he spoke!

Words and sounds gusted out of his mouth

Like a volcano erupting after a century of long sleep,

He spoke, he spoke, and he spoke volumes!

He talked firmly to himself or maybe to an invisible entity or spirit,

Repeating verbatim words that he had been absorbing:

The same terms used to tease, label, and mock him,

To bully and denigrate him, to silence him and cast him out.

From the bed where I slept, after we were allowed,

I saw him walking outside like a soldier going to war,

Brave and determined to defend his persona with words!

The struggle was out there, and he went to fight it

With his only but most potent weapon: words!

Words used in a common way: verbally, loudly, and firmly.

He knew the power of words, used for any purpose.

Now equally equipped to face the struggle in his early life,

He spoke correctly just as he had observed words on lips,

Using the same words to tease, mock, or intimidate.

To the big disbelief of all, though I had prayed and pleaded

To my ancestors and God that one day he would speak,

Zola had proven at last his ability to pronounce words.

Soon he would go to school to learn words in books,

To write words on a blackboard or in a notebook,

On a wall or on the ground, carving on a tree or on leaves.

Words pronounced in speech to make a statement,

Words spoken with confidence in a native or foreign language,

Words used to argue, defend opinions, convince, and lead,

Words that would further educate and engineer his brain,

Words as a tool to beat all odds and rise exceptionally like a star,

Indeed, words were clearly spoken by his mouth from this point on.

What liberation, relief, blessing, and privilege!

Buy the Book

If you’re interesting in Utanu Maa’s work, you can purchase it at any of these places.

AMAZON.COM https://amazon.com/dp/0228836506
AMAZON.CA https://amazon.ca/dp/0228836506
KINDLE https://amazon.com/dp/B08M2DNJHP
BOOKSHOP https://bookshop.org/books/rise-and-fall-of-my-beloved/9780228836506
INDIGO CHAPTERS https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/rise-and-fall-of-my/9780228836513-item.html
BARNES & NOBLE https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rise-and-fall-of-my-beloved-utanu-maa/1138021915
BOOK DEPOSITORY https://www.bookdepository.com/Rise-and-Fall-of-My-Beloved-Utanu-Maa/9780228836506
RAKUTEN KOBO https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/rise-and-fall-of-my-beloved
SMASHWORDS https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1051884
APPLE BOOKS https://books.apple.com/us/book/rise-and-fall-of-my-beloved/id1538242460

For the full post about Utanu Maa, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Rise and Fall of My Beloved.

Review: A Shot of Murder

I’m a longtime fan of crime novels and continue to be amazed at the creative ways authors find to put their protagonists into murder investigations. One of the most compelling has got to be having a family member involved and author Brenda Gayle plays this approach like a fine violin.

I appreciate a novel of any genre that also manages to capture a piece of history, and A Shot of Murder does just that with its interesting view of the soldiers of WWII returning home. Both the soldiers’ trauma and the required adjustments of the women who’ve held down the fort in their absence are examined with sensitivity.

And, I’m also a sucker for stories involving women who just want a chance to use their talents and pursue their dreams. So clearly A Shot of Murder was tailor-made for me.

All in all, it is an enjoyable and easy to read book. The writing is smooth and the pace is quick. Too often I get annoyed at amateur sleuths who come across as annoying busybodies but Charley is both likable and competent as a trained investigative reporter. I enjoyed walking in her shoes and I won’t hesitate to read more books in this series.

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see A Shot of Murder.

I chose this book to review because crime novels are my other favorite genre (along with speculative fiction of all sorts.) Someday I hope to write a crime novel.

Review: The Foes Between Us

The Foes Between Us is a delightful book with a fine mix of history and fantasy. Much of it revolves around an outdoor-loving young English woman who is poorly-suited to the constraints of her society. The author has added a few twists to the restrictions placed on women in the 1840’s, including a brilliant device wherein women are literally sewn into their dresses and bloomers to keep them chaste.

The well-drawn characters in this story pull in the reader while an engaging plot that is part treasure hunt and part murder mystery keeps the pages turning. Eventually, a wizard/victim of religious intolerance from three-hundred years earlier joins the story, providing extra dollops of magic to what has only been hinted at before. Much of this tale concerns the social injustices of both time periods, but more than enough parallels to our own time keep the observations relevant.

Author Robison has a far-better-than-average way with words. Deft bits of description pepper sentences driven by high-energy verbs. The story is told in a first-person present-tense voice that adds a sense of urgency to each sentence. I liked the pace at which the plot moves, but have to admit at times her way of telling it wore me out. The occasional inner monologue provides humor and I appreciated those little breaks from the pounding activity.

I recommend this book to those who like historical fiction and to those who enjoy female protagonists with a mind of their own, ones who don’t spend the entire novel lusting after some man. I recommend it to those who enjoy reading about magic, or those who enjoy fantasy.  In fact, I recommend this novel to people who simply enjoy a good book.

If more than one of these applies to you, you need to check out this story.

I reviewed this book because I enjoy writing and reading historical fantasy. For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Foes Between Us

 

 

How do the people in your life influence the characters in your stories?

I’m always fascinated by how much other authors draw on the people they are close to as they create their characters. Recently I got the chance to ask Joanne Guidoccio, author of the women’s fiction novel No More Secrets, what her take was on this issue.

Bits and Pieces of Characters

Having lived and taught in different cities throughout the province of Ontario, I have felt free to “borrow” characteristics from friends, former colleagues, and students to create composite characters in my novels.

That was the modus operandi for the first five novels I wrote: Between Land and Sea, The Coming of Arabella, A Season for Killing Blondes, Too Many Women in the Room, and A Different Kind of Reunion.

While writing No More Secrets, I followed a slightly different path.

Angelica Delfino, the protagonist, is also a composite character. But this time, I borrowed from the Italian women of my mother’s generation. And, yes, I did include bits of my mother’s life. Before she died, Mama read an early draft and commented, “I can see myself here, as well as…” and then she mentioned several relatives and close friends.

The three nieces—Velia, Nora, and Teresa—belong to Generation Y. While sketching their characters, I considered former students but also thought back to my own experiences.

Growing up, I was surrounded by several friends and relatives who resembled Velia, the quintessential good Italian girl who followed the script. While I demonstrated some of her self-discipline and motivation for academic achievement, I didn’t marry at an early age, nor did I choose to stay home and raise a family.

Nora, Velia’s polar opposite, is considered the black sheep of the clan. Impulsive and carefree (at times reckless), Nora has taken many risks in her personal and work lives. Her disastrous marriage barely lasted one year. Often described as a Career ADDer, she experimented with several careers before finding her niche as an interior designer. In my late twenties and early thirties, I did go through a brief period of job-hopping.

Like Teresa, the youngest niece, I settled in Guelph, a mid-sized city in south-central Ontario. We are both introverts and teachers at Catholic school boards, but the resemblance ends there. A theology department head, Teresa is more spiritually inclined. Early in the novel, she speaks wistfully about her missionary work–something I admire but could never do.

Bellastrega, aka Lynn Miller, started off as a minor character. Initially, I intended to have Angelica’s psychic companion appear briefly in the first chapter. All that changed after she started invading my dreams. She ended up with her own POV and full control of the epilogue. Her character was inspired by a psychic in Northern Ontario. While I don’t possess psychic abilities, I do share a common interest with Bellastrega. When I retired twelve years ago, I made wellness a priority in my life. Many of Bellastrega’s comments and suggestions could easily have come from me.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out No More Secrets.

Making Up Words

Every fantasy author has to deal with the dual problems of how much vocabulary to create and how to do it. Recently I got the chance to ask Russell Archey, author of the fantasy novel The Seven Spires, about his approach. He was kind enough to provide this interesting answer.

I didn’t create much vocabulary for the world in The Seven Spires, but I did draw on many sources for naming conventions. Since each kingdom and realm in the book is based on different mythological and fairy tale criteria, I tried to stick with conventions from each respective source.

For example, the Red Kingdom is properly known as Edda. This name comes from the Poetic Edda of Norse mythology. Names like Horodir are meant to invoke such Nordic naming conventions, where others like Vidar are directly related to Norse mythology. One of the most dangerous creatures encountered in the book is the monstrous, worm-like jormungandr who dwell in the Jotun Foothills—both named after creatures from the same mythology. The capital city of Edda? Valgrind, otherwise known as one of the gates of Valhalla!

Some naming conventions are meant to tie characters together, such as the three sorceress sisters who have the ‘æ’ symbol in their names to give them a mystical appeal. Other names and titles were built from various words to create something new. The capital of the Diamond Kingdom, Icostraea, is a combination of “icon” and the Greek goddess of justice and purity, Astraea.

Of course, what fantasy story filled with mythology, fairy tales, and folklore would complete without dragons? I wanted to try something unique with the dragons in this setting. Dragons are rare creatures in Septer (itself named after a word for the number seven and bringing to mind a symbol of authority) and they are named after what I’ve always felt are dragon-type archetypes.

Father Dragon is the progenitor of them all, and as such, each other dragon is referred to as a “dragon-child.” Each dragon-child found a home in a separate realm, making seven total of their kind in the world: Father Dragon, Drake, Naga, Serpent, Wyrm, Hydra, and, of course, Wyvern. Despite their rarity and special, unique natures, not all are still alive at the start of the novel…

As you can see, even though I didn’t create any languages or overly unique vocabulary for the novel, many different languages were used to build the world itself. It’s a great big continent out there!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out The Seven Spires.

The 10-year-old inside me reviews The Ghost of Walhachin

When I started reading The Ghost of Walhachin, I realized I was the wrong person to review this book. I’d agreed to the review because I like historical fantasy and I have a real fondness for gentle ghost stories. I thought it was YA. However, this was a middle-grade book and I soon grew critical of its simple plot and rolled my eyes at the story’s overly-large need to suspend disbelief.

So I reconsidered my approach. This book isn’t written for people like me, I thought. Its intended audience is youngsters who have better imaginations than mine. So, in fairness to the author and to the book’s potential readers, I asked the ten-year-old who still lives inside my head to review the book instead. I’ll be honest. Some of her observations surprised me. Here’s what she thought.

A Review by the 10-year-old in my Head

I liked this book. I liked the ghost because he wasn’t scary or mean, just the ghost of a kid trying to get home. I also liked that he was green and green is my favorite color. I liked the part about how he got sent to this town by his mom way back in 1912 but when nobody was there to meet him he died because he ate a bad sandwich on the way.

I liked the history part, and I liked how in the present day they were looking for something lost long ago. It was like a treasure hunt but not for a treasure.

But, I got kind of confused about how this kid from today could travel back in time just because of the ghost’s memories. Like, was he really back there or not? It seemed to me like he was just inside the ghost’s head but I guess he wasn’t because he worried so much about changing the past and he had to really be there to do that. Didn’t he?  But then I didn’t understand how a ghost can turn into a time machine for a real person.

The biggest thing I didn’t like was that there were no girls in the story. I mean most stories are about boys, or at least most of the good ones are, but usually, they have a sister or friend or something who gets to be part of the adventure too only this one didn’t have that so I felt kind of left out. I also didn’t like how so much of the book was about snakes and especially about snakes eating things.

I really liked the ending but I won’t tell you why because I don’t want to give it away. I think you should read the book for yourself. But I will tell you that the best part of it is about how people can be friends and help each other.

For more about this book and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Ghost of Walhachin.

 

 

Review: Georgian Romance Revolt

Georgian Romance Revolt

This a funny book. It’s funny in the sense of making you laugh out loud and it’s funny in the sense of being strange and hard to describe. I’ll start with the first.

Georgian romance novels are ripe for satire and author Lucinda Elliot does a fine job taking aim at all the easy targets like handsome heroes with perfect teeth and some of the more difficult ones like chaperones, forced seduction, and social inequities. She tells her story through the eyes of Elaine, a modern, slightly futuristic woman inhabiting the head of a romance novel heroine. Elaine’s take on this partially-sanitized fictional world provides another layer of humor.

But having two women living inside of one body, often fighting for control of it, is also where the story gets odd. Elaine is in eighteenth-century England by way of a virtual reality entertainment system that malfunctions, adding a sci-fi help-I’m-trapped-in-a-video-game subplot. Because even the best of satire is only funny for so long, I began to enjoy the get-me-out-of-here subplot more than the Georgian-romance-gone-wrong story.

Then it starts to get weird. Without giving away too much I’ll just say the 1960’s author of the original novel gets involved along with Stonehenge, reality, and maybe multiple dimensions. Then Elaine’s own personal life enters the scene as well.

Balancing all this is quite a feat. I think Elliot pulls it off but by the end, I’d have preferred a good bit less of the Georgian romance and a more thorough resolution of everything else.

The author says in her bio that she loves a good laugh. She certainly provided me with several and for that I am thankful. I recommend this book to anyone who likes reading something different and who enjoys satire.

 About the Author

Lucinda Elliot, four times winner of the BRAG Medallion for outstanding self-published fiction, was born in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. When she was growing up, her family lived in various large, isolated old houses in various parts of the UK as they used to renovate such places in the days before it became fashionable. She lived for many years in London and now lives in Mid Wales with her family.  She loves a laugh above anything.

 

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see Georgian Romance Revolt.

Fly Twice Backward is on my TBR pile

The premise of Fly Twice Backward by David S. McCracken fascinates me, and I’m looking forward to reading all of it. I’d hoped to do so for a recent review tour but frankly it’s daunting length (723 pages) put a kink in those plans. However, I spent enough time with it to make some observations.

  1. I started the book and thoroughly enjoyed the beginning. The author does a credible job of describing an incredible event — a man of today waking up in the 1950s to find himself the child he once was.
  2. McCracken tries a lot of ambitious things in this novel, and one is providing links to songs and other media intended to enhance his story. It’s a clever idea! I know because I tried it in 2012, in my first novel called x0 (and later renamed One of One)* and I thought it was brilliant at the time. The wave of the future. My own experience was that some readers loved it, some found it a real distraction, and most ignored it. Perhaps I chose my links poorly, but in the end, it took far too much effort to maintain them and I ended up rewriting the book (and four others) removing links entirely. I wish author McCracken a better experience with this idea!
  3. I skimmed through much of the long middle of this book. It appears to be a complicated but basically well-written story with a lot of action. Subdivided into decades, I zipped through the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s.
  4. I also looked at some of the reviews, because I always do that, and I saw some heavy criticism for the author’s inclusion of his personal political views. There is no question he has done that, but so do many if not most science fiction authors. From Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on through Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is  Harsh Mistress up to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s War, this genre has a long history of swaying hearts and minds, and not always in the direction I’d like to see them swayed. As a left-leaning independent* I thought the counterbalance McCracken offers to this legacy was a refreshing change of pace.
  5. I skipped ahead and read the end. I hardly ever do that, but so often such ambitious novels struggle to tie everything together and I was curious. No, I won’t give anything away, but only say the end was a frantic, action-filled sequence told from several points of view. It was fascinating to read and appeared to tie up several storylines nicely. I’ll have to read the whole thing, of course, to really know how well it does, but after my quick perusal, I’m looking forward to this.

*I wouldn’t normally talk about myself in a review, but lucky for me this isn’t really a review.

About the book

You wake back in early adolescence, adult memories intact, including ones that could make you very wealthy now. Your birth family is here, alive again, but your later families are gone, perhaps forever. What has happened, what should you do about coming problems like violence, ignorance, pollution, and global warming? You realize one key connects most, the fundamentalist strains of all the major religions, disdaining science, equality, and social welfare. You see that there are some things you can change, some you can’t, and one you don’t dare to.

Fellow idealists help you spend your growing fortune well–such as an artistic Zoroastrian prince in the Iranian oil industry, a rising officer in the Soviet army working to find a way to destroy his corrupt government, a Bahai woman struggling against Islamic brutality, a Peruvian leader working for a liberal future, and a snake-handling Christian minister, grappling with doubts, sexuality, and destiny. They are supported by an ally who develops essential psychic powers. The group faces familiar-looking corrupt politicians, religious leaders, and corporate czars, but there is an ancient force in the background, promoting greed, violence, hate, and fear.

This exciting, emotional, thoughtful, humorous, and even romantic sci-fi novel weaves progressivism, music, movies, and literature into a struggle spanning the globe. Vivid characters propel the action back up through an alternative history toward an uncertain destination. Experience the unique story and its novel telling.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Fly Twice Backward.

Review: Larceny at the Library

In Larceny at the Library,  Colleen J. Shogan has written an enjoyable cozy mystery enhanced with an insider’s knowledge of DC politics and a wealth of fun information about the Library of Congress and the world of historical artifacts.

Her amateur sleuth, Congressional chief of staff Kit Marshall, is diligent and methodical, and she delivers an admirable solution to the crime, just in time. I liked Shogan’s supporting characters and felt she introduced enough about each to make them three dimensional without getting bogged down in extraneous plots. On the whole, the story works well on an intellectual level.

I wish I’d read the previous novels, as I’m guessing author Shogan covered basics I missed. I needed to know more about Kit Marshall in order to really like her. I kept wondering what she was doing solving murders. Worse yet, when characters from previous stories showed up, I found their cameo appearances frustrating. I have a feeling this particular book works better on an emotional level if the reader is already invested in the main character and is happy to see people from her past.

Every book stumbles a bit somewhere: for this novel I’d say it could use a little more zing. I don’t want car chases and ticking bombs in my cozy mysteries, but less mundane food descriptions, fewer extraneous references to pop culture, and a lot less dialog that boils down to people introducing themselves to each other would have allowed this basically good story to pack more punch.

As it is, it’s a fun read and I’d like to read more by this author. I do recommend this book to all cozy mystery fans, and particularly to those who are also history buffs or are fascinated by watching the DC scene.

About the Author

Colleen J. Shogan has been reading mysteries since the age of six. A political scientist by training, Colleen has taught American politics at several universities and previously worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative staffer in the United States Senate and as a senior executive at the Library of Congress. She is currently the Senior Vice President of the White House Historical Association.

Colleen is a member of Sisters in Crime. “Stabbing in the Senate” was awarded the Next Generation Indie prize for Best Mystery in 2016. “Homicide in the House” was a 2017 finalist for the RONE Award for Best Mystery. “Calamity at the Continental Club” was a 2018 finalist in the “best cozy mystery” at Killer Nashville. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Rob and their beagle mutt Conan.

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see Larceny at the Library.

So, which child do you like best?

In my own experience, my favorite of my own books is always the one I’m writing now. Having read and enjoyed Olga Werby’s book Harvest (see my review) I was curious how she felt about it in comparison to her latest book Twin Time.  So, I asked her which of these two books of hers was more fun to write.

Yes, I know this is a little bit like asking someone which of their children they like best. “Both” is a good answer. But to author Werby’s credit, she had an interesting and well-thought-out response.

“Harvest” and “Twin Time” couldn’t be more different! One is a sci-fi thriller; the other is a fantastical, historical romance. I’ve spent years researching the science for “Harvest”—the scientific details in that story are all true. But the same is true for “Twin Time”. “Twin Time” is partly based on my grandmother’s childhood. She grew up in post-revolutionary Russia, in a rural village where the political change was slow to arrive. When it finally did, her family had to run in the middle of the night to stay alive. They lived through unspeakable horrors and didn’t survive unscathed. Most died. When and where we are born shapes our lives. When you read “Twin Time”, you will get to experience what it was like to live in another time and place with a different value system and different culture.

I came to America as a refugee; I grew up in Russia and those experiences shaped my life. To write about what it feels like to be there, even if at a different time and place than what I knew, was transformative. I loved doing the research, looking at illustrations and old photographs. It made me remember the fairytales of my youth.

Emotionally, “Twin Time” was more powerful for me, while “Harvest” was more intellectually stimulating. Writing these two books was a very different experience. But I wouldn’t swap my life for the life of my heroines in either of these novels—they had it rough. Spending a few years dreaming the lives of these women is very different from living those lives. I have to say, I’m a girl who likes first-class bathroom accommodations!

About Olga Werby:

Olga Werby, Ed.D., has a Doctorate from U.C. Berkeley with a focus on designing online learning experiences. She has a Master’s degree from U.C. Berkeley in Education of Math, Science, and Technology. She has been creating computer-based projects since 1981 with organizations such as NASA (where she worked on the Pioneer Venus project), Addison-Wesley, and the Princeton Review. Olga has a B.A. degree in Mathematics and Astrophysics from Columbia University. She became an accidental science fiction indie writer about a decade ago, with her first book, “Suddenly Paris,” which was based on then fairly novel idea of virtual universes. Her next story, “The FATOFF Conspiracy,” was a horror story about fat, government bureaucracy, and body image. She writes about characters that rarely get represented in science fiction stories — homeless kids, refugees, handicapped, autistic individuals — the social underdogs of our world.

Her stories are based in real science, which is admittedly stretched to the very limit of possible. She has published almost a dozen fiction books to date and has won many awards for her writings. Her short fiction has been featured in several issues of “Alien Dimensions Magazine,” “600 second saga,” “Graveyard Girls,” “Kyanite Press’ Fables and Fairy Tales,” “The Carmen Online Theater Group’s Chronicles of Terror,” with many more stories freely available on her blog, Interfaces.com.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Twin Time.

Review: The Murderous Macaron

The Murderous Macaron is a fun read, sure to please fans of cozy mysteries and lovers of well-meaning and sometimes bumbling amateur sleuths. (I do happen to be one such fan.) Julie’s bakery is the focal point of this gentle who-done-it, and there is just enough of France woven into the story to appeal to lovers of travel as well.

What I liked best: Simply put, this is an enjoyable book. I appreciate that it was an easy read, well-paced and well written. The somewhat complex solutions to the case were believable yet not obvious, providing a satisfying ending.

My favorite thing was Drew’s stellar cast of secondary characters. Grandma is great. I do love feisty old women and she delivers. Sister Flo, the artist, is equally fun, and I could have done with more of the geeky sous chef as well. I’m not a huge dog fan, but I even enjoyed Lady, the sleuth dog who joins the team.

What I liked least: There is a fascinating backstory here, dribbled out in small pieces and never fully dealt with. It is difficult to reconcile the light tone of the novel with an unexplained traumatic family death, an estranged twin with unusual powers, and Julie’s issues with both of the above. Yet, it all comes up often enough to make it hard to ignore.

The reader wants answers. I suppose the author intends to weave more explanations into future novels, but as regarded these issues, I felt cheated at the end. Plus, the only part receiving a real explanation (why Julie doesn’t like her twin) is just odd.

However, Drew’s story was charming enough for me to put that frustration aside, along with my current irritation with the gluten-free world, brought on by a husband who’s decided to go gluten-free for no real reason, forcing me to abandon half of my favorite recipes.  That’s hardly Ana T. Drew’ fault, and I resolved early on not to hold Julie’s gluten-free bakery against her.

So, I’d be happy to read more books in this series and I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery novel.

About the Author: Ana T. Drew is the evil mastermind behind the recent series of murders in the fictional French town of Beldoc. When she is not writing cozy mysteries or doing mom-and-wife things, she can be found watching “The Rookie” to help her get over “Castle”. She lives in Paris but her heart is in Provence.

For more about this book, and the Goddess Fish review tour this review was part of, see The Murderous Macaron.

 

How Happy is Happy Enough?

So, I’m personally struggling with the question of how happy a happily-ever-after ending has to be to satisfy readers. I suppose my even asking the question makes it clear I think there is some wiggle room, or there ought to be.

I recently featured Doorway to Scorn, a fantasy novel by Dimitrius Jones, on one of my other blogs. I was delighted to get the chance to ask this author what he thought about the infamous HEA ending. I really liked his response.

As someone who’s read his fair share of romance novels, I get it. We love to ship people and see those ships weather a storyline’s challenges and persevere. We want to be rewarded for instilling hope into our favorite pairing with an ending that is adorably predictable.

We escape into these stories because we’re not sure if true love actually exists sometimes. It’s hard to reconcile a belief in soulmates when we can log onto social media and watch a divorce happen in real time at almost any moment. That’s why it’s so tantalizing to find a romance novel that will soothe our concerns with the promise of a happy ending for the featured couple, even if there’s much ground to cover beforehand.

I’m just not here for it, personally. I feel like it’s overdone.

I won’t go so far as to say I prefer depressing, tragic endings and think they should completely replace happy endings. However, I can appreciate a bittersweet ending where not every character gets the exact resolution we think they should. Real life doesn’t work either way. You don’t always get the ending to a relationship that you deserve, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a beautiful story out of it. It doesn’t mean there isn’t art to be found in a non-happy ending.

I think we could benefit from reading about relationship stories that we can better relate to versus stories where we idealize the couple. Some may say it’s boring, but I think it’s a challenge. As a writer, I’m always seeking new ways to express real life in a fictitious setting. What better way to expand my creative bandwidth than challenging myself to craft a great story without relying on tropes?

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any more happy endings. I just believe we shouldn’t fear realistic ones that don’t always make us feel fuzzy inside. It’s okay. There’s still a story there.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Doorway to Scorn.

Do you wonder what a memoir writer doesn’t tell you?

I’ve often wondered about what gets cut from a memoir. I recently got the chance to ask actor and activist Leon Acord this question about his new book Sub-lebrity* (*the queer life of a show-biz footnote) … and here is his response.

I’m a believer of the “vomit draft.” Meaning, when writing a first draft, you write down everything that comes to mind. Future drafts are about cutting, condensing and deciding on and strengthening your “thesis.”

So, after the first draft of SUB-LEBRITY, I realized my book was the mostly comic tale of an out-and-loud gay actor from Indiana now living and working in Los Angeles. If a story wasn’t about being gay, being an actor, or being a gay actor, out it came. There was no room for family dramas or medical traumas.

But as requested, here’s a chapter which I cut from my book, all about my scariest “medical emergency.”

A Twisted Vein

I somehow arrived at middle-age without ever breaking a bone, having surgery, or even spending a night as a patient in a hospital.

Pretty good, huh?  Especially considering my childhood was filled with jumping off barns, riding horses and mini-motorbikes, and farm work!

But that’s not to say my life has been free of scary medical-show drama.

Around 2003, I began to notice, while reading, that text was becoming a little blurry.  I attributed it to my age (40 at the time), and mentally made a note to buy some reading glasses.

I also noticed colors on TV became muted when I closed my left eye.  Again, I assumed it was just a case of aging eyes.

Then one day, as I was walking to work in San Francisco’s Financial District, I looked up at a high-rise building.

Is that building bulging? I wondered.

I closed my left eye. The building did, indeed, appear to have a small bulge — one or two floors warping outwards.

How is that possible?

I quickly made an appointment with my regular eye doctor, a wonderful woman named Dr. Christine Brischer.

As we sat down, I explained to her what I was experiencing.  She looked into my left eye, then my right, with her lighted pen.  Then, without a word to me, she spun around in her chair, picked up the phone, and called a leading ophthalmologist.

“Hi, its Christine.  I have a patient who needs to see you immediately.  Can he come this afternoon?  Good!”

She hung up, and spun around to face me.

“I hope you have good insurance,” she said cryptically.  “This is going to be expensive.”

I left her office in a daze, and immediately called Laurence.  He left work early and joined me at the ophthalmologist’s office.

After a thorough and grueling examination, the specialist explained to use what was going on.

A small artery behind the center of my right retina had sprung a leak.  The blood that was spilling out was pushing the retina forward, thus causing vision in that eye to appear warped.

The ophthalmologist conferred with his team.  They suggested urgency.  Considering the leak was located directly in the center of my eye, they recommended the “big guns” — a “hot” laser eye surgery.  It would leave me with a permanent blind spot in the middle of my right eye, but the heat from the laser might — just might — seal up the leaky vein.  We agreed.

My head was strapped into a chair.  I was warned against moving in the slightest for the 60 seconds the laser was shooting into my eye, as the laser would burn (and blind) anything it touched.

The terrifying procedure began, and the entire time, I wondered What if I have to sneeze? What if there’s an earthquake?  What if I fart?

I didn’t, there wasn’t, and I didn’t.

I was appearing in the play Worse Than Chocolate at the time, and assured director Jeffrey I’d recover sufficiently in time to return to the show following the mid-week break in performances.  And I did, despite incredibly distracting “halos” that stage lighting caused in my recovering eye. (I should’ve worn the eye patch I’d been sporting after the surgery on stage, but critics already felt my villain was a little too over-the-top!)

That weekend, during a performance, as I’m “firing” Jaeson Post and demanding the office key from him, he dropped it as he handed it to me.  I looked down.  With my impaired vision, the brass-colored metal key vanished against the similarly colored wooded floor.

I looked at Jaeson.  Rightfully remaining in character, he refused to pick it up.

I got on my hands and knees and felt for the keys with my hands, like a young, manic Patty Duke-as-Helen Keller.  The audience actually loved it, loved seeing the heavy of the show (me) reduced to crawling on his hands and knees after being such a prick, but it was a very scary moment which I think I played off.

We returned to the doctor for a follow-up a week later.  We were both disappointed when told the vein was still leaking.   So now, I had warped vision plus the blind spot right in the center of my eye.  I began to question the wisdom of using the “big guns” right away.

The doctor suggested we try the hot laser again.  But one blind spot is enough, thank you very much.  So, we opted for the less-powerful option:  inject me full of photo-topical chemicals, and shoot a “cold” laser into my eye, through the retina, at the leak.  Then hide from direct sunlight for the next three days (not so easy to do in Los Angeles), as the chemicals would leave me susceptible to serious sunburn within minutes.

That didn’t stop the leak either. So, we tried it again. Then again.

After seven more expensive cold laser surgeries over 18 months, the leak was finally catheterized.

What caused the vein to pop a leak in the first place?

That question left the various eye professionals stymied.  Until over a year later, when we consulted with a vision specialist on the campus of UCSF.

“Did you grow up on a farm?” he asked within moments.

“Why, yes, I did, why?”

“Histoplasmosis,” he answered, explaining the infection – caused by inhaling dried bird droppings – is common in people who live(d) on midwestern farms.  Most people carry it without ever developing symptoms.  Yes, as a matter of fact, I did spend a few months as a kid raising chickens and selling the eggs to neighbors and family members.  And I remembered, Mom had battled the same thing when I was a young kid — in her case, it attacked the veins in her legs, putting her in a wheelchair for a week or two.

Then again, it may be the kicked-up piles of dried pigeon shit I inhaled while shooting OUT’s climatic mugging scene in that disgusting San Francisco Tenderloin back alley.

Over the years, my blind spot from that hot laser has continued to expand, basically leaving me effectively blind in the center of my right eye.  If I live long enough, the slowly expanding blind spot will eventually leave me legally blind in that eye.

I’ve gotten used to it.  The human eye is an amazing thing, and fills in blind spots with the colors surrounding it.  I only really feel impaired when taking a conventional vision test, while watching a 3D movie, or if I’m driving in an unfamiliar part of town after dark.

The plus side?  I have to subject myself to rigorous eye tests every six months to ensure the leak doesn’t reopen.  Since most of the patients of my ophthalmologist are elderly men and women battling macular degeneration, every time I show up for an appointment, I enjoy the very rare sensation of being the young person in the room — a feat I rarely accomplish in LA!

Or anywhere else these days, now that I think about it…

I thank the author for an honest and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Sub-lebrity*.

Predicting Pandemics

It’s hard for a science fiction writer not to be taken aback by the unexpected events of 2020. Given that, I asked author Melissa Riddell to share her thoughts on the difficulties of writing science fiction that occurs in the near future.

Here is what she had to say:

When I wrote The Descendant last year, I had no idea we were going to have our own viral outbreak in the real world. Even though my book’s apocalypse starts with an electromagnetic pulse wiping out all electronics and electricity, it also throws in a deadly virus killing most of humanity. With The Descendant, though, Tilly and Jareth’s romance and character development is at the heart of the story, so the virus takes a backseat to the true narrative.

There have been many apocalyptic books written where a virus is the driver to end times, such as Stephen King’s The Stand, and most readers (me included) gobble them up because we feel safe. We enjoy imagining what it would be like to survive the chaos—from the comfort of our favorite reading chair with our favorite beverage at our side.

The only true danger after reading these apocalyptic novels was developing a sniffle during the reading. We might’ve rushed to the clinic and explained what Mr. King called this type of sickness. “Oh, sweet Jesus, I think I’ve got Captain Trips.”

Calmly, the doctor informed me—uh, I mean those readers—they were suffering from allergic rhinitis, nothing more. He might’ve shaken his head and walked away, probably adding the patient to his psychosomatic list. And he was right—a little loratadine or cetirizine cleared Captain Trips right up. I digress, though.

Enter 2020 and COVID-19. Now that the world has had a tiny taste of living through a real pandemic, some readers want no reminders of what’s going on. Their whole purpose of reading a book is to escape reality. This poses problems for this type of near-future sci-fi and kills the “joy” factor.

On the flip side of that coin, the other crowd loves it, because they can relate to the book’s characters in a much more intimate way. Heck, they might even read it again to ensure they didn’t miss any tips on how to survive the virus.

Any writer trying to “cash in” on the current pandemic is probably going to find their book in one of these two crowds—those who love it because of what we’re living through, and those who detest it due to the current situation. My advice? Write your story. Even if it’s not popular right now, every genre experiences fluctuations in popularity, so who knows? Maybe a few years down the road, when we hopefully have COVID-19 under control in our past, those who passed over the book might be willing to give it a try.

In general, without the viral threat we’re facing, I think the difficulty in writing near-future sci-fi technology is in the technicality of the world or gadgets. If the story’s setting or tech is based on proposed developments, say in 10-30 years, then it’s imperative the writer does his or her research. Why? Because the technology isn’t that far away, and the author must prove to the reader they know what they’re writing about. Imagine getting it all wrong, and in a few years, the book is outdated and unbelievable. That’s not a good thing for the writer—or the reader.

In my opinion, it’s much easier to write science fiction for the far-off future or an advanced race, because I can make up stuff that can’t be disproven so easily. As long as I stick to fundamental laws of physics and biology (as we know it), then I can create the “fiction” part of science fiction and hopefully, the reader will happily come along for the ride.

About Melissa Riddell

Melissa Riddell is from a small, West Texas town in which she still lives with her husband. Her writing career started as a hobby when she was a teenager, writing poems and short stories. Eventually, she branched out and began constructing novels. When not contemplating new story ideas, she can be found traipsing around Texas State Parks, herding her cats, or reading a book.

Visit her website.

I thank the author for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out The Descendant.

Name your target audience

I’ve always struggled with others’ needs for me to define my target audience.

“Uh, people who like to think? Maybe people who are curious?” I told the woman in charge of placing my paperbacks in the local bookstore.

She gave me an eye roll. “I’m going put them in young adult,” she said.

Arrgghhh. So, when Merinda Johns described her book as “more than a romance novel” I was curious. Who did she see as her intended audience? I asked her and I love her response!

Writing for People Who Relish a Compelling Story

Yes,  Blackhorse Road is more than a romance, and there’s an unusual backstory about what propelled me to take an offramp from writing nonfiction, mostly textbooks, to authoring fiction.

After I retired from academia, I started my practice as a leadership coach and focused on helping women break the glass ceiling and fulfill their leadership and economic potential. During the past ten years, I transitioned from writing textbooks to motivational books on creating environments where people flourish through better leadership.

About three years ago, I was on a conference call with fellow life coaches, and we were discussing concepts of what makes a fulfilling life.  Bang! Like a thunderclap, I had an insight. What would it be like to help people understand the concepts of a flourishing life in a story instead of through a motivational book or text? After all, storytelling has been the most compelling form of communication for thousands of years. As far as I could recall, none of the great Profits fed up learning objectives and multiple-choice questions to their followers.  No!  They got their message across through stories.

Since I was ten-years-old, I had wanted to write fiction, but my professional career steered me in another direction.   Now, I saw an opportunity to follow the dream I had had as a child and write books that immersed readers in the human experience rather than writing about frameworks and theories.

Blackhorse Road is best characterized as women’s fiction—a story of a woman’s journey toward a fulfilled life. It is a story about how an ordinary woman tackles challenges, lives through sorrow and betrayal, struggles with self-doubt, and acts on her aspirations to achieve flourishing life.

Blackhorse Road blossoms from my imagination that is influenced by my experience, perspectives, and observations that give the story authenticity and sensitivity, helping readers connect with the characters and feel their joy, disappointment, sorrow, and happiness.

But Blackhorse Road has more—it is enriched by the backstories that set the context for the characters and events in the story—historical incidents, politics, economics, philosophy, religion, and psychology that influence the values of the characters and ultimately the consequences of their actions.  As Connor, one of the characters in Blackhorse Road says, “Time and place shape a person.” It’s the intermingling of these forces that creates a complicated explosion and tension within and among the characters.

Even though Blackhorse Road fits squarely into women’s fiction, it is a story that can appeal to everyone.  This realization came from two “ah-ha” moments that I had.

The first came during a virtual launch party for Blackhorse Road when an audience member asked the beta readers if the book would be appropriate for younger readers.  What prompted that question was the beta readers’ observation about how the lines of communication between Luci (the protagonist) and her father play a critical role in the formation of Luci’s values and belief system, and her grit to achieve autonomy.

In response to the question, one of the beta readers said that she had given the book to her seventeen-year-old granddaughter so that the two of them could read it together, and another beta reader shared that she was reading the book with her fourteen-year-old daughter.  The consensus among the beta readers was that the book was appropriate for teens fifteen and older—an insight we had not discussed at the original meeting of the beta readers seven months earlier!

Okay, I said to myself.  Blackhorse Road is for women readers fifteen years and older.

But then a  second ah-ha moment came roaring through like a tornado when I received a text from a fifties-something man.  “Just finished Blackhorse Road.  WOW!  Very powerful.  Made me cry!  Great job.  Let me know when you have a book signing event in my area.”

So, in the end, while Blackhorse Road has a lot of romance in it, it is more than a romance novel. Blackhorse Road is for anyone who relishes a compelling story about how ordinary people tackle challenges, live through love gained and loss and sorrow and betrayal, and who struggle with self-doubt, and act on their aspirations to achieve flourishing lives.

About Merinda Johns

Merida Johns takes her experience as an educator, consultant, and businesswoman and writes about the human experience. In 2018 Merida took an unlikely off-ramp from writing textbooks and motivational books to authoring women’s fiction. Her stories are learning lessons where awareness and curiosity transport readers to the most unexpected places within themselves.  Merida hails from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, grew up in Southern California and has lived from coast-to-coast in the United States.  Besides writing, she enjoys fabric arts, including weaving and knitting. She makes her home in the serene Midwest countryside that gives her the inspiration and space for storytelling.

Find her at:
Her website:  www.MeridaJohnsAuthor.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MeridaJohnsAuthor/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/meridajohns
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Merida-L.-Johns/e/B001IU2KBS
Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/shop/MeridaJohns
Buy Blackhorse Road on Amazon.

I thank Merinda Johns for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Blackhorse Road.

Characters, Characters, Characters

Characters, Characters, Characters

In The Secret Spice Cafe Trilogy, Patricia Davis has woven a complex tale, spanning generations. I asked her what techniques she used to make sure her readers didn’t get lost in her large cast of characters. Here’s what she said.

To keep a reader turning pages in novels such as these, they have to be invested in the characters as much as they are in the story. With a large cast of characters, it’s always a challenge to make their voices distinguishable from one another.  In the case of Angela, Cynthia, Jane, Rohini, Sarita, and Cristiano, who are the main players in an even larger cast of characters, I had to consider the region of the world from which they each came, their ages, their sex, and even their life experiences.

How does that translate to the page? It’s simple enough to give a character description, a synopsis of all of the above for each. Simple, but boring.  I could have written, “Angela was a forty-five-year-old Italian-American from the east coast of the USA,” or I could show that by her actions, her thoughts and perceptions, her manner of speaking.  Each character was given “tells”—phrases they use routinely, motions they make, habits they have.

A reader could go through each novel with a highlighter if they wished, and find these things. Sharp eyes would notice that Rohini rarely, if ever, uses contractions when she speaks, for the reason that her English is careful and precise, as it’s her second language, and she learned how to speak it in her native India.  Cristiano, from Spain, will often sound more like he comes from Mexico. He explains that in the storyline. Sarita nibbles on her thumbnail when she gets nervous, Cynthia moves her hands way more than most, Jane sometimes uses expressions from her native northern England, such as “you lot” to mean, “you people,”  that a number of American readers unfamiliar with the lingo might think is a typo.

I got lucky—so lucky—on the audiobook narrator, Ann Marie Gideon. She loved the idea of all the accents, regions and ages so much, that she spent a lot of time with me, asking questions about each character. And she really nailed them. Her audiobook narration is the best I’ve heard.

Bottom line, writers worth their title research meticulously each character’s background, socio-economic level, life experiences, and take all of that into consideration when writing dialogue, and action.  I’m lucky to have met many people from many different parts of the world. That made it easier for me. I enjoyed writing them, as much as I enjoy hearing a reader say how ‘real’ the characters seemed to them.

They are real, as real as my imagination and pen could make them.

I thank Patricia Davis for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out The Secret Spice Cafe Trilogy.

A Hundred Lies

My Review

In A Hundred Lies, Jean M. Grant has created a likable hero in Rosalie, the fake fortune teller. She has placed her in a fascinating time and place, and done the research to make the setting come alive. Finally, she’s given her a thorny dilemma to vex her, and a threatening nemesis to chase her, so we all can hold our breath, hoping the best for her as we turn the pages. I enjoyed reading Rosalie’s adventures.

I wish I’d found the tortured nobleman who loves her to be as compelling, but I never quite did. He is an honorable man with a real talent for seeing the future, and I’m all for having feisty female leads attracted to someone interesting who isn’t a jerk. But he does spend a lot of time brooding about past mishaps and his relentless remorse gets a bit tiresome. Luckily, most of the rest of the cast, including his own mother and sister, and Rosalie’s aunt and uncle, keep things moving.

I appreciated the author’s ability to articulate this distant world, but she sometimes rambled through it a bit too slowly for my tastes. Some scenes cut in and out of past memories and included local facts in ways that reduced the punch of her narrative. That minor complaint aside, I enjoyed how well everything from knowledge of herbs to catty servant girls gave me the feel of being there.

I recommend this book to those who like their romance novels to have more to them than just a couple getting together, and I also recommend it to those who enjoy historical fantasy and wouldn’t mind a romance story as part of the package. Either way, I think readers will find a lot to like about this tale.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see A Hundred Lies.

False Light

Review: False Light

Cover_False LightFalse Light is a fun read, enhanced with a dose of real-life art history and made more interesting by the endearing romance of its two main characters.

The plot contains the requisite amount of clues, twists, and suspense, along with the genre-required action-filled climax, so I suspect most lovers of crime novels will enjoy it. However, I found its real charm to lie in three unexpected joys.

The first comes from Riess’s background. I have, at best, a passing acquaintance and mild interest in art, but I am captivated when an author brings expertise to a story like this. Claudia Riess helps her readers learn about masterpieces, forgeries, and auctions, without ever dumping information. (She got me looking into real-life art forger Eric Hebborn, and I’m always delighted to be introduced to a too-strange-to-be-fiction character.)

Another surprise is the relationship between the two lovers at the heart of this tale. They’ve gotten past the first hurdle of commitment (apparently in the previous novel) and now struggle to figure out how to live with their promises. I found their relationship compelling, and suspenseful in its own right. I appreciate an author who acknowledges falling in love is easy compared to making love work.

What didn’t I like? While the writing is generally okay, the pacing lags on occasion, particularly early on. Some parts required a little too much attention and rereading to follow multiple characters and complicated plot lines. Yet, none of this was enough of a problem to keep me from enjoying the story.

Years back, during a difficult time, I devoured J.D. Robb’s novels about a futuristic detective and her billionaire husband, and I realized there is this wonderful escapism involved in reading about the very wealthy solving crimes. (At least as long as they are nice people, which these characters are.) That brings me to the third pleasant surprise of this novel. Though Riess’s characters are unique to her story, their life of sumptuousness provided me with that same gentle nepenthe while their adventures held my interest.

As this virus has wreaked havoc with life, I’ve found myself eating rum raisin ice cream. That sweet treat is getting me through a lot these days. Why do I mention it here? Because when I finished this book I thought I’m glad I read this. In a world filled with too much frozen broccoli and canned soup — this is a rum raisin ice cream kind of a book. I plan to check out the author’s other flavors.

About the Author

Claudia Riess, a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston and has edited several art history monographs.

 

 

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see False Light: An Art History Mystery

How much backstory should one provide?

Everyone loves a series, right? And … everyone wants to be able to read each book as if it were a stand-alone novel. True?

I struggled (a lot!) with this quandary in my 46. Ascending series, so when I got the chance to ask author R.W Buxton (who writes an urban fantasy/paranormal romance series) any question, I went right for his solution to this dilemma.

Here is his fascinating answer.

I read a lot of series. It seems that it’s the most popular format for authors to write these days. Honestly, when I started writing Capital Thirst, the first book, it wasn’t my intention of writing a series myself. But there was more story than I wanted to stuff into a single book so I did it, I started a series.

Backstory is always an issue, whether it’s the second or third book of a series or the first book. The trick is to get it in so the reader knows what’s going on, without boring them to death. I hope I could achieve that. I am reading the second book in a series by another author. I loved the first one, but in the second book the author will take paragraphs in the middle of action to cover the backstory from the first book. I tried not to do this. As a reader of the first book, I find I just skip this stuff and even if I hadn’t read the first book, I don’t need to know the details of what happened just that something did and it has an impact now.

When I wrote Beverly Hills Torture, I knew new readers wouldn’t know what happened in Capital Thirst but there are just key parts they needed to know. So if you read Beverly Hills Torture without reading Capital Thirst I tried to only include the key points that you need to know without retelling what happened in the first book.  This also means a lot of what was in Capital Thirst isn’t revealed. But I hope just enough for the reader to know why things are happening in Beverly Hills Torture.

Most of the backstory I tried to include in dialog or quick thoughts that Erin or Gerry have. There is a bit of explanation in the first chapter, but when you jump in right in the middle there has to be a brief explanation because the new reader knows nothing about the characters.

Writing a series is a progressive thing to undertake. In the first book, all you need to worry about is the backstory of the characters. In the second book, you have to worry about the character backstory and reintroducing it for new readers as well as including key elements of what happened in the first book. The third and fourth books are even more difficult to pick the details because there are a lot more of them and keeping them straight becomes more and more complicated. Not to mention deciding which ones are important and which aren’t.

It’s a balancing act, I hope I have enough, but if I erred, I would prefer to err on the side of not enough. If it’s not there, readers can make their own decisions or assumptions. If they’re curious, they can go back and read the first book. But I would rather do that than spend paragraphs writing about what happened that will bore readers that have read it and may or may not add something for the readers that have.

The facts about how Gerry became a “day walker,” and his relationship with Erin are all there. The rest, if I really felt it was important, is there.

I thank R.W Buxton for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Beverly Hills Torture.

 

 

 

Review: Cooking for Ghosts

Cooking for Ghosts is based on a great premise and is filled with a terrific cast of characters and just enough ghostly activity to keep you on the edge of your seat. It has plenty of humor, a lot of romance, and a few surprises.

My favorite aspects of this book included the many strong female characters and the wide variety of people who are written with affection and empathy. I appreciated the detailed look into the food service industry (where I once worked) and the wonderful descriptions of mouth-watering dishes.

I also thought the author hit exactly the right notes in this mostly-gentle ghost story. The paranormal parts were interesting and occasionally thought-provoking without being either horrifying (or disgusting) or being too cute.

I did struggle with the sheer amount of drama and trauma in every character’s life and, after a while, I found myself yearning to be introduced to someone without major issues. I  also got frustrated a few times when the backstories went on too long. I wanted to get back to the action moving this story forward.

The things I liked about this book far out-weighed those I didn’t, so I’d recommend it to anyone who appreciates complex stories of women’s lives, or novels about cooking fine food, or well-done ghost stories. If you enjoy two out of three, you are going to love this book!

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see Cooking for Ghosts. 

Review: The Duplex

In The Duplex, Lucky Stevens has written a story that both packs a punch and needs to be told.

I liked so many things about this book, including the way Stevens captures the fifties along with all its many ingrained biases. I enjoyed watching the tale evolve through the eyes of four protagonists, often seeing the same incident through different points of view. I appreciated how Stevens demonstrated the way prejudices against any group seep into the beliefs and self-images of those most adversely affected until they begin to doubt themselves. Sometimes it was painful to read, but, as I said, it’s a story worth telling.

In fact, I liked almost everything about this compelling tale. It moved quickly, and the voices rang true. I suppose one could complain that certain aspects of the two gay men, and two lesbian women, were too stereotypical, and they would have a point. I suppose others might struggle with four alternating first-person points of view, although I liked it.

Some might prefer a neater, more happily-ever-after ending for all, but I thought the ending worked fine. Without giving anything away I’ll just say things get messy but happiness is found, much like in real life.

I recommend this book to anyone, but especially those who like historical novels, are fascinated by the 1950s, or are fans of reading about Los Angeles. The novel may appeal to those in the LGBTQ+ community, but I have a special recommendation and this one comes from the heart.

I HIGHLY (caps intended) recommend this novel to those with close friends or family members who are LGBTQ. It’s an eye-opening look at the world they could be living in. I know it made me aware of the need for us all to be vigilant about preserving the basic human rights this group has had to fight so hard for. This novel is important food for thought for a caring community.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see The Duplex.

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