Book Review: Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek by Terry Shames—and a Giveaway!

Dead Broke in Jarrett CreekDead Broke in Jarrett Creek
A Samuel Craddock Mystery
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-61614-996-3
Trade Paperback

This is a fun, Texas small town murder mystery, with a victim that lots of people have a reason to kill. It’s an engaging read and a quick one.

As a town, Jarrett Creek and many of its people have hit hard times. I don’t know if small towns really have that many people involved in so much mischief but Jarrett Creek seems to have very few honorable people living there and although it’s fun to read about, I certainly wouldn’t want to live there. I did like Samuel Craddock, the former Chief of Police, and found lots of the characters fun or interesting.

There is so much going on in Jarrett Creek that I did not guess the ending and that always pleases me. The only issue I had with the book was that too many characters are introduced too quickly – I counted 14 just in Chapter 1. The good news is that eventually all the names and backgrounds get straightened out for the reader and it soon becomes clear who is important to the story and who isn’t.

This is the third in the Samuel Craddock series but it is the first book in the series that I’ve read and it reads easily as a standalone.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, October 2014.

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To enter the drawing for a trade paperback
copy of Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek by

Terry Shames, leave a comment below. The
winning name will
be drawn Tuesday evening,
October 28th.
This drawing is open to residents
of
the US and Canada.

There’s Something Wrong With It

Jeanne Matthews 2Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press.  Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust.  Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels.  She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor.  Her Boyfriend’s Bones, the fourth book in the series, is in bookstores now and Where the Bones Are Buried will be out in January 2015.  You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at www.jeannematthews.com.

The poet Randall Jarrell defined a novel as “a long piece of prose with something wrong with it.” That’s a deflating premise for a novelist and a strangely mean-spirited putdown, coming as it did from a man who slit his wrists when a critic for the New York Times panned his poems.

We writers are constantly troubleshooting our manuscripts. We reread and re-plot, edit and rewrite, polish and proof and rewrite some more. We do our dead-level best to eliminate the wrong bits. Yet in spite of that flattering blurb on the cover that promises “flawless storytelling,” every book encounters at least one reader who finds something wrong with it. True hatchet jobs are rare these days. But faint praise can seem almost as damning, and a one-star review on Amazon can cause gnashing of teeth and rending of garments for some sensitive souls.

Writers thrive on compliments. They provide validation for our hard work. They warm our hearts and allay our self-doubt. We are thrilled when our books receive high praise and disappointed when they do not. Somewhere inside of every writer, there’s the memory of a slighting review we can’t forget and no amount of countervailing praise will soothe the sting. In a recent article on Digital Cruelty in The New York Times, Stephanie Rosenbloom summed up the problem perfectly: “Just as our attention gravitates to loud noises and motion, our minds glom on to negative feedback.”

Her Boyfriend's BonesEach of us deals with the slings and arrows of criticism in a different way. Raymond Chandler came in for his share of abuse by the critics. He wasn’t a bad writer, they acknowledged with backhanded regard, but why did he squander his talent writing cheap detective fiction? Chandler, who did not suffer from a lack of confidence, shot back, “I might be the best writer in this country . . . but I’m still a mystery writer.”

Critics never accused Erle Stanley Gardner of good writing, but he could afford to ignore them. His books were all bestsellers. When one of them came in for a bad review, he replied, “It’s a damn good story. If you have any comments, write them on the back of a check.”

Unfortunately, not every writer possesses the self-assurance of Chandler or Gardner and besides, those guys didn’t live in the free-for-all environment of the Internet. Today’s authors not only run the gauntlet of professional reviewers. They must contend with online reviews, some by readers who strew stars like confetti, others by trolls who post disparaging or incendiary remarks. Most authors have the good sense not to respond to a negative review, even if they secretly fantasize an array of excruciating tortures they’d like to inflict on the stinker who wrote it. However, some hotheads can’t resist the urge to strike back. They have a self-destructive streak, not unlike Sonny Corleone. They tear out on a mission of vengeance, only to ride into a hail of gunfire.

One outraged author tweeted the phone number and email of a reviewer who dissed her book and encouraged her fans to “Tell her what u think of snarky critics.” Another went after her critics on Amazon, claiming that they “used the site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies.” And yet another aggrieved author assumed a false online identity to harass her detractor and threatened to report anyone who badmouthed her or her books to the FBI. These Twitter rampages and flame wars are like watching a house burn – or a reputation. The spectacle is simultaneously irresistible and appalling.

Where the Bones are BuriedThe thriller writer Brad Meltzer confronted a string of negative reviews without acrimony or resorting to ad hominem attacks. He made a funny, self-deprecating YouTube video in which members of the Little League team he coaches and a few elderly friends and relatives quote from the long list of scathing comments and dismissive assessments of his The Book of Lies. “Predictable, sophomoric, sophomorically implausible, preposterous, juvenile, formulaic, horrible.” His critics didn’t mince words. The video, first titled “Everybody hates Brad Meltzer” has been changed to “Everybody still hates Brad Meltzer in paperback.” It can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/meltzervideos (click on “videos”).

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everyone will absolutely love my new book, Where the Bones Are Buried. But as Meltzer demonstrates, a sense of humor and a hide like a rhinoceros are valuable assets for those of us brave enough to send our (inevitably) flawed prose into the world for all and sundry to judge.

Book Review: Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman

Cover of SnowCover of Snow
Jenny Milchman
Ballantine Books, February 2013
ISBN 978-0-345-53421-7
Hardcover

Nora and Brendan Hamilton live in an old farmhouse nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Nora wakes up one wintry morning to find that her world has been turned upside down. Nora’s husband Brendon is a police officer in love with his wife, his job and his hometown. However, this wintry morning Nora discovers that her husband has committed suicide. He has not left a note or anything to indicate why he would take his own life.

As Nora attempts to find out the reason for her husband’s suicide, she finds every door is closed. No one will give her answers. Nora has never felt completely accepted by her husband’s family and friends and she has no one to turn to in her search for answers.

Every stone she uncovers only leads to more questions. This intriguing book leaves the reader quickly turning pages and looking for answers.

This is Milchman‘s debut novel and the winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award. I hope to read many more novels by this author.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, June 2014.

Book Reviews: The Bridge from Me to You by Lisa Schroeder and The Sun Is God by Adrian McKinty

The Bridge from Me to YouThe Bridge from Me to You
Lisa Schroeder
Point, July 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-64601-7
Hardcover

Lauren has had a rough life. After an incident involving her mother and younger brother, she is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in a small town in Oregon, where she meets Colby. Colby is the wide-reciever and one of the team’s (and town’s) celebrities. And in this town, football is everything to everybody. Except Colby.

Themes of family, acceptance, friendship, and following your heart are the biggest tackles in the narrative. Lauren is trying to find acceptance in an absent mother while not realizing she’s already a part of another family. Colby is forced to see what friendship means to him when his best friend is involved in a life-changing accident. And both main characters have to follow their heart, both in their relationship and in their individual lives. Colby faces this challenge more than Lauren, as he is pressured by his dad (and sometimes the whole town) to make football his present and future when all he wants is to be himself.

Lisa Schroeder presents this story as a verse novel, where poetry and prose coincide with each other. Lauren’s point of view is always in poetry format, except when she’s talking to her psychiatrist. I assume that the chapters that are presented as poetry are from her journal, which you find out Lauren is supposed be writing in. Colby’s point of view is presented as first-person prose, and I found myself wondering how different it would have been if their views had been switched, and it had been Colby’s voice seen as poetry and Lauren’s as prose? Would it had made Colby seem less masculine? Or made him more relatable as a human being?

While I thought it was beautifully written and there were certain scenes that made me want to curl into a ball and cry, Lauren and Colby’s relationship didn’t feel as real as I hoped, and I felt they had more of a platonic relationship than romantic. However, Schroeder does an excellent job in portraying realistic views of teenagers in a small town (being from a small town myself). There’s the wanting of a life outside the city limits, the little excitement of things to do, and how a community will rally together for one of its own. Even though some characters and their scenes felt cliche, the realism of the book made the town, and the narrative as a whole relatable. Schroeder makes the story feel like a work of non-fiction, even though it isn’t.

Reviewed by Kristina Akers, September 2014.

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The Sun Is GodThe Sun Is God
Adrian McKinty
Seventh Street Books, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-61614-068-7
Trade Paperback

Will Prior, a former British military police officer, only thinks he’s in for a life of peace in Deutsch Neu Guinea. It is 1906. Will, booted out of the British service wants to be left alone with his blighted rubber plantation and his servant girl, Siwa. But then his friend, German policeman Klaus Kessler, knowing Will’s background in the military police asks him to help find a killer when an autopsy reveals a cult member in a nudist colony has been poisoned.

What a cast of characters! From the least to the lead, fully fleshed and fully intriguing. The setting, a tropical forested island, is fascinating and very real. Made me hot and sweaty—and not in a comfortable way—just to read about it. Will finds sunburn a real problem. Near starvation for nudists required to dine only upon coconuts and bananas is a twist. As is the fact all of them take good old Bayer produced heroin for their health’s sake along with every meal. Will has a job ahead of him in discovering who, in this wacky group, is also a murderer.

Best line in the book: Evans hadn’t commented on his (Will’s) Plimsolls, which were squeaking now like poisoned rats in a granary. Very graphic and evocative.

Plimsolls, in case you don’t know, are a type of athletic shoe with a rubber sole and canvas top developed in the 1830s.

I wouldn’t call this historical mystery fast-paced, but it is a fascinating look at a lesser-known time and part of the world. We’re told it’s based on a true story.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Reviews: Hell with the Lid Blown Off by Donis Casey and Battle Not With Monsters by Overton Scott

Hell with the Lid Blown OffHell with the Lid Blown Off
An Alafair Tucker Mystery #7
Donis Casey
Poisoned Pen Press, June 2014
ISBN 9781464202988
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

The farming community of Boynton, Oklahoma, in 1916 is like most of small town America, with parents wondering of their sons will be going off to fight in the War. Alafair and Shaw Tucker have ten children and have additional worries—two of their older daughters are about to deliver babies, and daughter Ruth is living in town with the piano teacher, Mrs. MacKenzie.

During a terrifying tornado, the Tucker homestead is damaged. Their son-in-law is seriously hurt, and some of their neighbors are killed, including local troublemaker Jubal Beldon. It’s when the undertaker is preparing Beldon’s body for burial that he discovers that Beldon was dead before the twister hit. Beldon had plenty of enemies, including his own brother. The question is: who didn’t want him dead?

It’s easy to get caught up on the lives of the Tucker family members—Ruth has a budding romance with the deputy sheriff, the Tucker’s take in a young cousin, and they find a baby amidst the debris of the tornado. Seventh in the series, the appeal of a close knit and loving family draws the reader in. If you loved the “Little House” books as a child, you’ll find much to like in this appealing series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2014.

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Battle Not With MonstersBattle Not with Monsters
Overton Scott
Good Heart Press, March 2014
ISBN 978-0615989556
Trade Paperback

This author has come up with an interesting and fresh protagonist. Justine Ford, commonly called Neen, comes into the story while going through her lower middle class life as an underpaid security guard working for a Dallas, Texas firm. One discovers she is firmly committed to a healthy body and a rigorous athletic routine. She also teaches children at a local dojo.

When she observes her partner being bludgeoned to death in the garage of the building they are supposed to be guarding, her first reaction is to run to his aid. It’s an important clue to her view of the world, but her reaction is still deficient, something she recognizes and which plays an important part in the rest of the novel. Because she arrives on the scene too late to save her partner’s life.

The novel develops a clear pro-gun, pro-state’s rights, libertarian stance, when a man shows up to lead Justine away from her roadway of ordinary existence. He is her savior in a number of important ways, but Justine does retain her innate sense of independence and self-awareness. As the story progresses, through several rambling and overly-detailed segments, Justine develops a plan to visit retribution on the killer who has murdered her partner and attacked Justine.

The novel is wordy, rambling and desperately needs a firm editorial hand. I confess I do not make the connection to the title. At the same time, it is an exciting and credible novel to read, beyond a typical frothy beach read, but the pace is uneven while we repeatedly learn about aspects of her physical training. The action scenes are excellent, each time ratcheting up the tension and feeding Justine’s uncertainties as she walks step by step into new and dark violent confrontations.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Reviews: Doing It at the Dixie Dew by Ruth Moose and Chilled to the Bone by Quentin Bates

Doing It at the Dixie DewDoing It at the Dixie Dew
Ruth Moose
Minotaur Books, May 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-04638-3
Hardcover

This is a charming little cozy mystery, set in the small town of Littleboro, North Carolina. Beth McKenzie is doing her best to remodel her late grandmother’s Victorian mansion into a charming Bed and Breakfast. But when Levinia Lovingood, an elderly woman from a wealthy family, returns to town after many years, and becomes one of Beth’s first overnight guests, she is murdered in her sleep.

The very next day, the local parish priest is also murdered. What on earth is happening to the peace and quiet in this picturesque little town where everyone knows your name and no one ever locks their doors at night?

In the midst of scraping paint, redecorating the porch into a Tea Room and polishing hardwood floors, Beth is dragged into a nest of intrigue, suspicious notes and harrowing experiences as she attempts to find the answers to the murders.

Quaint characters flit through the story including a crazy bag lady living under a tree and several octogenarians who behave in bizarre ways. Verna takes her rabbit on a leash everywhere she goes and Miss Tempie visits the cemetery daily where she buried her dog next to a mausoleum.

Secrets abound and threats on Beth’s life turn ugly and all too real as she gets closer to the truth.

Miss Ruth Moose has created a fun mystery with just the right touch of humor, plot and suspense. Recommend this as a good summertime read for all cozy mystery lovers.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, September 2014.
Author of Black Cat’s Legacy.

 

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Chilled to the BoneChilled to the Bone
An Officer Gunnhildur Mystery
Quentin Bates
Soho Crime, December 2013
ISBN 978-1-6169-5330-0
Hardcover

A police procedural is a police procedural, whether it takes place in Brooklyn, Los Angeles or Iceland. And in this, the third novel in the series, Police Sgt. Gunna Gisladottir, gets into a complicated investigation when an elderly retired ship-owner is found dead in a hotel room, nude and tied to the four corners of the bedstead. It turns out he had a heart attack, so no murder, but it is followed by a series of similar attacks at various hotels, during which each victim was relieved of cash, and credit and debit cards, which were milked for whatever they were worth. Moreover, the laptop of one of the victims was confiscated, leading to the knotty issues raised during the plodding investigation, including two murders. It seems the laptop contains information embarrassing to the ministry of foreign affairs.

Gunna is unlike many protagonists: A relatively subdued, ‘normal’ woman, with a home, husband and family, who goes about her business quietly and steadily, snow or ice. The author, who lived in Iceland for ten years before moving back to the UK, writes for a commercial fishing magazine, so he knows the island well and writes about it and its environment with authority.

The novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2014.

Book Review: A Dark Inheritance by Chris D’Lacey

A Dark InheritanceA Dark Inheritance
Unicorne Files Book One
Chris D’Lacey
Scholastic Press, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-60876-3
Hardcover

Three interminable years ago Michael’s father left for a business trip, never to be heard from again. That dilemma, however; is not the strangest quandary in Michael’s life. Since his father’s disappearance, he has become aware of seemingly small, random but wacky occurrences. Being a logical kid, he was able to theorize and dismiss these happenings…..almost. Now, the incidents happen all too often, and there is truly no explanation. Assuming that the oddities and his father’s vanishing are related, Michael determinedly searches for answers.

This engrossing, brisk Book One of the Unicorne Files treats the reader with intriguing speculations such as time travel, mental telepathy, and ghosts. There are so many paths and parallels that if Mr. D’Lacey wasn’t so ridiculously gifted, the tale would look like a giant, sloppy knot. In his more than capable hands, however, it becomes an intricate, fascinating and beautiful tapestry.

Taking an extreme implausible concept; say time traveling five years into the past, and whittling it down to something more palatable, like jumping mere seconds into the future, is one way that this author could easily have any skeptic second-guessing. Setting the scenes by painting pictures with words had this reader envisioning jagged cliffs, hearing the loud crashes of a churning, belligerent sea pounding against unforgiving rocks. The sprinkling of subtle hints throughout kept me engaged and invested. Tiny twists kept me going in different directions and rethinking theories.

While this is indeed highly entertaining, it is more than just “mental popcorn”. Michael’s saga is an active adventure in which readers will quickly embrace this troubled young man and cheerfully root for him to solve the mysteries that plague him. I am already looking forward to the second book.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2014.