Book Review: Forty Dead Men by Donis Casey

Forty Dead Men
An Alafair Tucker Mystery #10
Donis Casey
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-4642-0937-6
Hardcover

This latest of the Alafair Tucker mysteries sees Alafair’s son, Gee Dub, home from WWI.  Unfortunately, although he reconnects with his large family and puts on a good face, Alafair knows something is wrong with her strong, quiet son. When he finds a young woman in a field behaving oddly and brings her home to his mother, the situation only grows worse. Alafair befriends the woman, but then a murder is committed and suspicion falls on Gee Dub. Even Alafair has her doubts when she finds an ammunition case that generally holds forty bullets, but now holds only one, which then goes missing.

Soldiers have always suffered from PTSD. In WWI it was called shell shock and Gee Dub has more reason to suffer from it than many. He often struggles with what is real and what is not, but even so, this story holds some surprising twists and turns.

This is a powerful story of family, love and kindness, and hardship, too. Not to be missed.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

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Jeanne 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. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

The term “cliffhanger” derives from an 1873 serialized novel by Thomas Hardy, A Pair of Blue Eyes.  At the end of one installment, the heroine, Miss Elfride Swancourt, watches in horror as her romantic interest, Henry Knight, falls off a precipice in a driving rainstorm.  He can’t climb up because the ground is too slippery and the scene ends with him dangling above the abyss, a fragile finger-hold on life, hope fading fast.

Hardy may have given us the word for the literary trick of leaving the reader in suspense, but it’s as old as storytelling.  All those omens and prophecies and portents in the Aeneid and the Odyssey, would they or wouldn’t they come true?  Listeners no doubt waited with bated breath.  In the Arabian Nights, the Persian king, embittered by his wife’s infidelity, has her beheaded and promptly marries a virgin.  Then on the morning after their first night together, he beheads her to make sure she never gets the chance to betray him.  This pattern of one-night stands goes on day after day until the kingdom begins to run short of virgins.

The vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, thinks she can outsmart the king and volunteers to be his next bride.  On their wedding night she starts telling him a spine-tingling tale of adventure.  Then, at the most dangerous and climactic moment in the plot, she finds a reason to postpone the ending until the next day.  The king’s curiosity is so whetted that he postpones her beheading.  On the second night, she finishes the first story and starts another, again leaving him hanging at the do-or-die moment.  Scheherazade’s cliffhangers kept her alive for a thousand and one nights until finally the king fell in love with her.

Shakespeare’s head may not have been in jeopardy, but even he saw the importance of a hook.  At the time he wrote his plays, two-thirds of the population was illiterate.  His audiences drank heavily and tended to get rowdy if the action lagged.  The five-act structure of the Elizabethan play was designed with the typical theatergoer’s attention span in mind.  How long could they sit still in one place without getting bored, hungry, thirsty, or needing to relieve themselves?  The playwright had to conclude his second act (the one just before the “comfort break”) with something so gripping, so fraught with peril that they simply had to return to find out what happened.

By the middle of the 19th Century, books had become more widely available.  Many were published in serial form and writers soon learned how to create buzz for the next installment.  In 1841, Dickens ended a chapter of The Old Curiosity Shop with poor little orphaned Nell desperately ill.  Would she live?  Would she die?  His fans waited in a state of agonizing suspense.  When the British ship carrying the hot-off-the-presses answer arrived in New York Harbor, they stormed the docks.

Psychologists call this human craving for resolution the Zeigarnik effect.  A Russian psychologist named Bluma Zeigarnik conducted a study which showed that interrupting people in the middle of something they are doing or reading makes them twice as likely to remember it.  Once they become invested in a task or a story, they don’t want to stop until they reach the end.  Humans, it seems, have a compelling need for closure.

Few books appear in serial form today, but mystery and thriller writers who want to build tension and suspense in their novels have to master the art of delaying closure.  The longer the delay, the more avid the reader becomes. Those of you who let slip the opportunity to read A Pair of Blue Eyes and The Old Curiosity Shop are probably now tormented by regret and suspense.  Did Henry plunge to his death?  Did little Nell succumb to her terrible sickness?  Some of you will already be racing to place your orders with Amazon.  But for those who simply can’t wait a minute longer, I won’t leave you hanging.

SPOILER ALERT!

The quick-acting and resourceful Miss Swancourt stripped off her voluminous petticoats and Victorian-era undergarments, knotted them into a rope, and hoisted Henry to safety.  He thanked her by breaking off their engagement.  As for dear, gentle, angelic little Nell, she expired sweetly upon her little bed, survived by her frisky little bird, which continued to hop about nimbly in its little cage.

Cliffhangers can pack a big narrative wallop.  They advance the plot and heighten the reader’s emotions.  Those emotions run the gamut from thrilled anticipation of the next episode; to perplexity or disappointment at an unsatisfying conclusion; to the furious urge to throw the damn book across the room.  And then there’s little Nell.  To quote Oscar Wilde, “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”

Book Reviews: Untwine by Edwidge Danticat and Courage and Defiance by Deborah Hopkinson

Untwine
Edwidge Danticat
Scholastic Press, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-42303-8
Hardcover

Preamble be damned, Untwine begins in the present and with purpose. Mum and Dad aren’t getting along. Identical teen-aged twin girls are tight, but right now, each is feeling a bit out of sorts. Everyone in the family car, each in a funk. And they are running late. Suddenly–another vehicle slams into them. The tightly knit family is shattered; metaphorically and then, quite literally.

Realistic fiction with a fresh focus features a situation that anyone can relate to. Rather than opening with an obligatory, typical-teen-turning-point type of event, it’s a regular day and a random accident. With all the ripple effects. Giselle relays events to the reader, moving both backward and forward, but in a fluid kind of way—painting the picture piece by piece.

Ms. Danticat’s story struck me as unique in a couple of ways. First, I felt a solid sense of loss for someone I’ve never known. Not sadness, sympathy or empathy; but an actual aching emptiness, and all for a character the author doesn’t even introduce. Second, subtle nuances–almost behind-the-scenes actions, that demonstrate strength and support of extended family I found to be both impressive and inspiring.

Mum and Dad, each with a sibling, immigrated from Haiti to the U.S. and they made their home in Miami. The accident brings the twins’ maternal aunt, as well as their father’s brother, to the hospital and straight to Giselle’s bedside. When Giselle is released from the hospital, she has rigid, ridiculous rules to follow, but they are for real. If she wants her brain to heal, that means no screens whatsoever, no reading, and no writing. Everyone else has their own injuries, so grand-parents come from Haiti to help out.

A sad story, with subtle silver linings, is simply the best.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2018.

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Courage & Defiance:
Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark
Deborah Hopkinson
Scholastic Press, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-59220-8
Hardcover

In April of 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and the quiet, common thread running through the Danish people was plucked. If ever there was a more resilient, resolved and remarkably sympathetic collection of human beings, they are unknown to me. Ms. Hopkinson honestly portrays the dangers of dismal, every-day-life under occupation as well as the cruelty and despair of concentration camps, simultaneously displaying the intuitive empathy and bravery of the Danes.

What strikes me the most is that each person has an individual ‘line he will cross’ while still doing his level best to resist, if not fight, against the gruesome German goals. That is, until learning of Hitler’s plan to round up and relocate Danish Jews to concentration camps. The unspoken, unanimous decision to prevent this was almost palpable as plans for moving Jewish Danes to Sweden were formed.

I do not have the ability to aptly convey the reasons that I will be highly recommending this non-fiction nugget, so I’ll just leave you with this: reading Courage and Defiance reminds me of the quote that Mr. Rogers would share from his childhood. When he would see scary things in the news, his mother advised, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

Book Review: Mourning Dove by Claire Fullerton

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Title: Mourning Dove
Author: Claire Fullerton
Narrator: Claire Fullerton
Publisher: Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas
Publication Date: June 25, 2018

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Mourning Dove
Claire Fullerton
Narrated by Claire Fullerton
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, June 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

The heart has a home when it has an ally. If Millie Crossan doesn’t know anything else, she knows this one truth simply because her brother Finley grew up beside her. Charismatic Finley, 18 months her senior, becomes Millie’s guide when their mother Posey leaves their father and moves her children from Minnesota to Memphis shortly after Millie’s 10th birthday.

Memphis is a world foreign to Millie and Finley. This is the 1970s Memphis, the genteel world of their mother’s upbringing and vastly different from anything they’ve ever known. Here they are the outsiders. Here, they only have each other. And here, as the years fold over themselves, they mature in a manicured Southern culture where they learn firsthand that much of what glitters isn’t gold.

Nuance, tradition, and Southern eccentrics flavor Millie and Finley’s world, as they find their way to belonging. But what hidden variables take their shared history to leave both brother and sister at such disparate ends?

Mourning Dove is a compelling Southern family tale that, by turns, had me smile, tear up, laugh out loud, even get irritated with certain characters’ inflexibility, especially Posey and her husband, the Colonel, step-father to Millie and Finley. If things didn’t go exactly the way they expected, there would be hell to pay and life was frequently uncomfortable for the children.

As Millie and Finley grew up, they learned not only how to live with the rules of the household but also found their own way. The two are devoted to each other whether together or apart and they truly depend on each other through all the joys and despair of life. Still, family and friends are caught very much by surprise when a terrible thing happens even though they knew a darkness was brewing.

A couple of things pulled me out of the story occasionally. I’m a born and bred Southerner and some of the author’s pronunciations were different from mine; for instance, she would say “in-TRIC-a-cies” while I say “IN-tric-a-cies” and “de-COR-ous” while I say “DEC-or-ous”. Also, as a Mary Baldwin alumna, I know that it did not change its designation to University from College until 2016, many years after the time period of this story. I also have never heard of the bride’s family being responsible for hosting the wedding rehearsal dinner, especially back then. All that aside, I really did enjoy hearing about places, mannerisms and Southern culture so similar to my own upbringing. Although I managed to talk my parents out of doing the whole debutante thing, I did spend several years in cotillion 😉

I don’t always think an author narrating her own book is a good idea but Ms. Fullerton does bring the characters and the ambience to life, especially because Millie is telling the story. This is a deeply thoughtful look at the South of the 70’s and 80’s and is a true evocation of a time and place that was quite unique. Well done!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

About the Author/Narrator

Claire Fullerton grew up in Memphis, TN and now lives in Malibu, CA. She is the author of contemporary fiction, Dancing to an Irish Reel, set in Connemara, Ireland, where she once lived. Dancing to an Irish Reel is a finalist in the 2016 Kindle Book Review Awards, and a 2016 Readers’ Favorite. Claire is the author of A Portal in Time, a paranormal mystery that unfolds in two time periods, set on California’s hauntingly beautiful Monterey Peninsula, in a village called Carmel-by-the-Sea. Both of Claire’s novels are published by Vinspire Publishing. Her third novel, Mourning Dove, is a Southern family saga, published in June, 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. She is one of four contributors to the book, Southern Seasons, with her novella, “Through an Autumn Window”, to be published in November 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. Claire is represented by Julie Gwinn, of The Seymour Literary Agency, and can be found on WordPress, Twitter (cfullerton3) Goodreads, Instagram ( cffullerton) as well as the website under her name.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagram

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles

The Boy at the Keyhole
Stephen Giles
Hanover Square Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-335-65292-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Nine-year-old Samuel lives alone in a once-great estate in Surrey with the family’s housekeeper, Ruth. His father is dead and his mother has been abroad for months, purportedly tending to her late husband’s faltering business. She left in a hurry one night while Samuel was sleeping and did not say goodbye.

Beyond her sporadic postcards, Samuel hears nothing from his mother. He misses her dearly and maps her journey in an atlas he finds in her study. Samuel’s life is otherwise regulated by Ruth, who runs the house with an iron fist. Only she and Samuel know how brutally she enforces order.

As rumors in town begin to swirl, Samuel wonders whether something more sinister is afoot. Perhaps his mother did not leave but was murdered—by Ruth.

Artful, haunting and hurtling toward a psychological showdown, The Boy at the Keyhole is an incandescent debut about the precarious dance between truth and perception, and the shocking acts that occur behind closed doors.

On the surface, this book would seem to have elements of a dark, gothic story, something like Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, with a looming, cavernous manse, a creepy, sinister housekeeper and a protagonist who becomes more and more suspicious about what’s going on. Really, the main difference is that the protagonist is a child rather than a new young wife being intimidated by the housekeeper while the husband is apparently distant emotionally.

Certainly Samuel has reason to be suspicious, lonesome, baffled, all the feelings a child would have when one parent is dead and the other disappears, supposedly legitimately but without even telling him goodbye. Right there, my empathy went to this little boy who surely deserved better. How disappointed he must have been each day when she didn’t come home.

Ruth is undoubtedly an unpleasant caregiver and it’s no wonder Samuel begins to have dark thoughts about this woman and her peculiar behavior. These feelings are exacerbated by Samuel’s friend who, intentionally or not, hints at nefarious goings-on and the suspense begins to build while Ruth understandably becomes more and more frustrated by this child who dares to snoop and raise questions. Is this all just a child’s imagination run amok?

A promising beginning doesn’t quite succeed, as least not as fully as it could have, and the very slow pace doesn’t help. I also felt the ending was a bit lacking but, overall, I think readers who like a slow-building suspense will be satisfied.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-A-Million
Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

Stephen Giles is the Australian author behind the lauded children’s series “Anyone But Ivy Pocket”, penned under the pseudonym Caleb Krisp. The series, published in the US by HarperCollins/Greenwillow and the UK by Bloomsbury, appeared on the New York Times Best Seller List, has been translated into 25 different languages and was optioned by Paramount Pictures.

Prior to selling his first book, Stephen worked in a variety of jobs to supplement his writing including market research, film classification and media monitoring. The Boy at the Keyhole is Giles’ first work for adults and the film rights for this book have been acquired by New Regency.

http://madeleinemilburn.co.uk/mm-authors/stephen-giles/

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Coffee by Mary C. M. Phillips

Pride and Prejudice and Coffee
Mary C. M. Phillips
eBookIt.com, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-4566-3070-6
Ebook

From the book’s “Introduction”:  Hundreds of years ago, before the world enjoyed their favorite beverage, coffee beans were chewed.  The refreshing jolt that native Ethiopians experienced might be similar to what we now encounter as we sip upon a freshly brewed cup of java; however, the method of delivery left much to be desired.”

This charming tale, sub-titled “A Caffeinated Romance and Brief Exploration of the Coffee Industry,” is just that.  While describing a protest at the premises of The Pemberley Corporation, a public corporation whose interests included coffee growers in Brazil, Guatemala and Colombia, the reader is made aware of the dire working conditions extant for those farm workers, who, along with their children, “labored in the hot sun without any respite of shade.”  Pemberley held large positions in these publicly traded stocks, and is now being held to account for “the exploitation of workers.”

I suspect that I am not alone in my ignorance of situations such as those described here, which I have no doubt reflect the actuality of the conditions described, at least in some if not all of these farms.  I suspect that I am also not alone in my complete enjoyment of a good cup of coffee [which, of course, does not excuse the conditions endured by these farm workers!].

Along with the personal lives of the protagonists, which is completely charming, each section [not denoted as ‘chapters’] is followed by a paragraph or so of fascinating tidbits of information, headed “Sip on This,” e.g., “Coffee and Romance,” “Gluten-free Food,” “Etiquette,” “Corporate Greed [discussing the Enron bankruptcy],” et al.  These take place in, among other disparate places, Jones Beach [New York], Costa Rica, and Central Park!  One does not normally think of the exploitation of workers as we sip our morning cups of coffee [apparently the most heavily traded commodity in the world, next to oil], until one reads this mind-opening book!

A complete change of pace, this short, fast-moving novel is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2018.

Sunday Sharing (3)

I often find posts by other bloggers
that strike a chord in me for one reason
or another and I’ll be occasionally sharing
them here on Buried Under Books.

Today’s share is from
Creature From The Book Lagoon:

Review: Awakened by James S. Murray
and Darren Wearmouth

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The star of truTV’s hit show Impractical Jokers-alongside veteran sci-fi and horror writer Darren Wearmouth-delivers a chilling and wickedly fun supernatural novel in the vein of The Strain, in which a beautiful new subway line in New York City unearths an ancient dark horror that threatens the city’s utter destruction and the balance of civilization itself.After years of waiting, New York’s newest subway line is finally ready, an express train that connects the city with the burgeoning communities across the Hudson River. The shining jewel of this state-of-the-art line is a breathtaking visitors’ pavilion beneath the river. Major dignitaries, including New York City’s Mayor and the President of the United States, are in attendance for the inaugural run, as the first train slowly pulls in.Under the station’s bright ceiling lights, the shiny silver cars gleam. But as the train comes closer into view, a far different scene becomes visible.All the train’s cars are empty.All the cars’ interiors are drenched in blood.As chaos descends, all those in the pavilion scramble to get out. But the horror is only beginning. High levels of deadly methane fill the tunnels. The structure begins to flood. For those who don’t drown, choke, or spark an explosion, another terrifying danger awaits-the thing that killed all those people on the train. It’s out there … and it’s coming.There’s something living beneath New York City, and it’s not happy we’ve woken it up.

Awakened (Awakened # 1) by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth.  Audio book, published June 26th 2018 by Voyager, 9 hours and 12 mins.  Narrated by James S. Murray.

I love creature stories and when I saw this title come out back in June, I couldn’t wait to get my greedy little hands on it.   Underground creatures attacking a subway? Hell yeah!! Right on up my alley.   Awakened definitely did not disappoint in the creatures, either.  You saw them plenty.  There was much death and destruction, with a side helping of lots of gore, at the hands (claws) of these unknown beasts.  Like I said, I love creature stories, and I read as much as I can, and I do not recall seeing anything exactly like these monsters.  Through the whole book, these creatures kept growing and evolving, their powers becoming stronger.  And there are just so many of them!  The main characters in this book really have their work cut out for them.

Along with the creatures, we are introduced to several human characters.  The main characters are made up of a few of the people who are stuck down in the tunnels and a few of the people who go in to the tunnels in order to rescue the people in trouble.  There is another group of humans caught up in the mix and this group is just as bad as the creatures.   At first it seems like there are too many characters going on, but it surprisingly never gets too overwhelming.

Awakened is book 1 in the start of a new trilogy.  These creatures are a world wide problem.  There is a shady secret organization pulling a lot of strings in the background.  This group has known about the creatures for decades and plan on using them to their own devious designs.  This organization and the random strangers brought together to fight the creatures (and the organization) in this book form the set up for book 2.  There was a lot of set up, especially in the last half of the book.  With the set up they did, I’m really looking forward to where this trilogy goes in book 2!  Author James S. Murray has said that he had worked on Awakened for 14 years.  He had trouble at first finding someone who would publish the novel, so it sat around on his computer for years before his friends told him to get back out there and pass the manuscript around again.  This time Awakened, as well as future books 2 and 3, were bought by Harper Collins.

It did not take long for the action to start in this book.  Pretty much right from the start there was crazy action.  It feels like it NEVER slows down after that.  It really hooks you at the beginning and you can’t wait to see how it all ends.  It was a 9 hour audio book but it did not seem like it was that long at all! The hours really flew by.

The audio book was narrated by the author James S. Murray.  Mr. Murray is not your typical voice worker.  He did not narrate this with all the bells and whistles you normally hear on an audio book.  Most of the characters sounded exactly the same and the women didn’t sound that much different then the men.  What he lacked in voice range, he made up with passion and energy.  He LOVES each and every character.  He LOVES this story he created.  Listening to Awakened is like hanging on every word that falls out of the camp counselors mouth as he tells a scary story around the campfire.

Awakened is a fast paced horror ride that catapults you straight in to on coming traffic.  And by “on coming traffic” I mean thousands, and thousands of horrifying creatures that will destroy you and everything in their path.   This was a solid start to a new horror trilogy and I’m looking forward to where the authors go in the next installment.   While author James S. Murray may not have a versatile range with his voice acting, he makes it work by giving the audio book life with his energy and passion for his work.

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By Creature From The Book Lagoon on September 14, 2018