Book Review: Schizo by Nic Sheff

Nic Sheff
Philomel Books, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-399-16437-8

Miles Cole will steal your heart. Unwittingly and apologetically, he’ll shatter it. With determination and pride, he’ll help to piece it together with tentative hope. This 16-year old boy is sweet, compassionate and justifiably troubled. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, his life teeters between reality and delusions, as a cacophony of medications race through his veins and scorch the lining of his stomach.

Mr. Sheff cleverly allows Miles tells his own story. In doing so, Miles’ observations identify and clarify surprising symptoms of this mental disorder providing readers with a rare glimpse of the self-loathing, ricocheting thoughts that constantly plague a riddled mind. Brilliantly, he illuminates the stigma of the psychosis with an almost casual thought, noting the incomprehensible, terrifying connection he shares with the tortured souls of the homeless people filling the streets. Futile attempts to build a relationship with a girl that is at best indifferent, too often cruel, are absolutely heart-wrenching. Empathy is easily evoked. This life must be a kind of hell; but Miles bears a burden that looms even larger.


His initial episode occurred during a family visit to the beach. The loud, frightening seizure commanded the attention of not only his parents and younger siblings; but seemingly the entire beach was focused on Miles. Amid the mayhem his young brother, Teddy is abducted.

Schizo begins with Miles considering suicide, as a means of relief for those he loves; but he sees another way. Everyone can be happy again. He must rescue Teddy. His fast-paced, courageous, ludicrous, quest is gripping. The kaleidoscopic range of emotions; hope, love, confidence, fury, self-doubt, wholly exhaust the young man. Symptoms are exacerbated with the mental, physical and emotional fatigue and the metaphorical roller coaster speeds up until it is hurtling out of control, with this reader clinging tightly, truly invested. Never have I wished so desperately to reach into a tome and hold a character.

As this irresistible story furiously frenzies to an end; Mr. Sheff deftly, (and dare I say a bit smugly) pulls the rug out from under the reader. A tiny twist delivers a punch so powerful that this already magnificent book is catapulted to phenomenal.

Sidebar: I have been a huge fan of Mr. Sheff’s writing since he bared his soul and captured my heart in Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines. I feel an almost kinship…..a familiar fondness for the young Mr. Sheff; which only strengthened when he wrung out my heart in We All Fall Down: Living With Addiction.

Working with an amazing English teacher, I have the privilege of giving “Book Talks” to five high school classes. In addition to introducing and recommending a book; a couple copies of the book are donated to the classroom library and a couple of copies from my own tiny library are shared with the students. So, filled with confidence that the students would love this book, at least as much as I do, that when I told them that there were a few copies circulating, I also blurted out, “…if you go out and buy this book and it does NOT rock your socks; I’ll buy it back from you!”

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2015.

Book Reviews: Noontime Follies by Elizabeth Gunn and Retribution by Richard Sotnick

Noontime FolliesNoontime Follies
A Jake Hines Mystery #10
Elizabeth Gunn
Severn House, July 2015
ISBN: 9780727884961

This author has many crime novels in print. They are all competently written with interesting characters in sometimes unusual locations. The Jake Hines series is particularly interesting in that it follows a lone Mexican with a checkered past who ends up in a small city on the eastern border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Over a period of years Jake Hines gets his life together, becomes a cop, a detective and now head of the investigations squad in Rutherford, Minnesota.

Noontime Follies is a title with someone’s tongue firmly implanted. And even though revealing the inner meaning of the title wouldn’t ruin the plot of the crimes herein, I think it’s more fun and more intriguing to suggest that readers who want an incisive crime novel about human relations and corporate maneuvering ought to read this one.

This novel is, in part, about the corporate development of new genetically engineered food crops which may or may not provide substantial benefits to mankind in the form of better nutrition. The issues are several and do indeed address questions of ethics and morality. After all, mankind, since the beginning, so far as we know, has been trying to improve crop yields, both to enrich the tribe and provide adequate food beyond immediate needs.

Some find that questionable, particularly as to motive, and may be provoked to unusual actions. Noontime Follies raises some interesting questions along those lines as well as its more intimate plot lines. A worthwhile experience with a satisfactory conclusion.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2015.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.


Richard Sotnick
Ephesus Publishing, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-9557125-3-1
Trade Paperback

The author is a lawyer from Portsmouth, England. The novel is rooted in the legal arcana of the British legal system. In point of fact, the novel is a lengthy, detailed critique of that system and an examination of the sometimes extensive damage the system does to innocent, wrongly accused, citizens.

Robert Abramsky is a very successful small town attorney who is faced with a client who started a specialized security firm. The security firm is absorbed into a much larger conglomerate and then unethically destroyed. Abramsky out-maneuvers the big firm and in turn destroys the vindictive man responsible. Readers will recognize that the tale will not end there.

Lawyer Abramsky’s main opponent is a nasty, vindictive man with a long memory. Years later, he still seethes over the memory of his destruction, conveniently overlooking the fact that he was, in fact, the guilty party. He determines to destroy Robert Abramsky in a most hurtful way, by ruining his honest reputation as a lawyer and member of the community. Corruption takes many forms and this intriguing novel examines several.

Although the pace of this overlong novel is almost as glacial as the legal system it addresses, the writing is strong enough and the plot is complicated enough to keep many readers engaged. In addition, the characterizations of many of the cast of dozens, is intriguing. Retribution fits its title nicely and the world-wide scope of the story plus the curiously intricate cyber security the author lays out all tends to keep one’s attention. Definitely not a soft summer beach read. Rather, a thoughtful careful examination of important elements of today’s society.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2015.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

A Day of Celebration!

Fourth of July Fireworks 3


Fourth of July Bird


Fourth of July Doggie 2


Fourth of July Horse


Fourth of July Kitty 2


Fourth of July Squirrel


Fourth of July Guinea Pig


Fourth of July Doggie 3


Fourth of July Rat 2


Fourth of July Kitty 5


Fourth of July Chicken


Fourth of July Kitty and Doggie


Fourth of July Dolphin 2



The Legacy of Miss Belinda Blurb

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


This piece was originally published on the Poisoned Pen Press blog in February 2014.

The first blurb appeared in 1907 on the jacket of Gelett Burgess’ book ARE YOU A BROMIDE? It featured a picture of a refined looking lady named Miss Belinda Blurb, one hand cupped around her mouth as if shouting, “Say! Ain’t this book a 90 H.P., six-cylinder Seller? When you’ve read this masterpiece, you’ll know what a BOOK is.”

The fictitious Miss Blurb heaped a bouquet of flamboyant and aromatic verbal orchids on the said masterpiece. “It has gush and go to it, it has that Certain Something which makes you want to crawl through thirty miles of dense tropical jungle and bite somebody in the neck. It has 42-carat THRILLS in it. It fairly BURBLES. This Book is the Proud Purple Penultimate.”

But the penultimate is not the ULTIMATE. There has been a considerable amount of linguistic inflation since 1907. I recently ran across a prouder, purpler and more extreme panegyric from 2010. The novelist Nicole Krauss blurbed David Grossman’s novel TO THE END OF THE LAND thusly: “Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before. [To read this book] is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence.”

Jeanne Matthews Miss Belinda BlurbGetting touched at the place of your essence sounds simultaneously titillating and scary, possibly inciting the desire to crawl through sixty miles of jungle and bite a whole caboodle of necks. In response to what Stephen King refers to as the “hyperbolic ecstasy” of the modern blurber, The Guardian newspaper launched a satirical competition inviting readers to blurb Dan Brown’s THE DA VINCI CODE, the winning entry to be chosen on the basis of its grandiloquence, pomposity, and extravagant affectation.

Exaggerated and untrustworthy as some dust-jacket testimonials might be, publishers and authors regard them as necessary to successful marketing and many readers are swayed, or at least intrigued, by blurbs. The recommendations and reviews of certain respected publications and well-known writers not only boost sales, they boost the author’s ego, as well. It’s human nature to lap up the elixir of literary appreciation, and who wants to second-guess the sincerity of someone who raves over one’s transcendent prose and gripping plot? But I confess that I feel queasy about approaching another writer to ask that he or she blurb one of my books. It’s considered bad taste to blow one’s own horn, but it feels a bit unseemly to ask another person to blow it for me by proxy. Most established writers are gracious and willing to help up-and-comers by writing a bylined blurb for placement on the cover of a new book. Others are overwhelmed by requests for their stamp of approval and must decline. A few sticklers refuse to blurb on ethical grounds.

Gary Shteyngart claims that he is a prolific blurber and will never admit to disliking a book because writing one is so hard. I can definitely agree with that. But the repeat blurber runs the risk of falling in love with a signature phrase. Blurbs by Frank McCourt can be recognized even without his byline. “So wondrous and wise you’ll want to claw yourself with pleasure,” he says of one book. Of another, “Open to any page…and you’ll claw yourself with pleasure.” And again, “In language that makes you want to claw yourself with pleasure, he powerfully evokes the stink of the present and the poignancy of the past.”

It’s surprising that more writers haven’t followed Dave Eggers’ self-satirizing example and turned the book title, itself, into a blurb, as he did in his (seriously good) memoir, A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING Where the Bones are BuriedGENIUS. Of course, Eggers got quite a few additional blurbs. “An exhilarating debut” that “redefines both family and narrative for the twenty-first century.”

Alan Levinovitz ( has written a history of the blurb, declaring it a genre unto itself. I think obituaries are a related genre, a sort of extended life blurb, too late unfortunately for the deceased to enjoy. Miss Belinda Blurb has bequeathed to writers some even higher-octane spin-offs – the blap and the blover. The blap is that multi-page compilation of 90 H.P., 42-carat tributes that follows the cover, and the blover is a shiny inner cover so dense with praise for the magnum opus that you will want to claw yourself with pleasure.

I like to think that my Dinah Pelerin mysteries have some gush and go to them. But I hereby disclaim all responsibility for injuries sustained from clawing, collapsing walls, or damage to the place of one’s essence while engaged in the act of reading them.

Spotlight: Method 15/33 by Shannon Kirk

I won’t bore you with the reasons but I
have had to delay the review of Method 15/33
I was supposed to post today. Please stop
back here on Monday, July 13th, for my
review and a giveaway.


Method 15-33-2


Title: Method 15/33
Author: Shannon Kirk
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
Genres:Mystery, Psychological Thriller, Young Adult



Imagine a helpless, pregnant 16-year-old who’s just been yanked
from the serenity of her home and shoved into a dirty van. Kidnapped…


Now forget her…

Picture instead a pregnant, 16-year-old, manipulative prodigy. She is shoved
into a dirty van and, from the first moment of her kidnapping, feels a calm
desire for two things: to save her unborn child and to exact merciless revenge.

She is methodical—calculating— scientific in her plotting. A clinical
sociopath? Leaving nothing to chance, secure in her timing and practice,
she waits—for the perfect moment to strike. Method 15/33 is what
happens when the victim is just as cold as her abductors.

The agents searching for a kidnapped girl have their own frustrations
and desires wrapped into this chilling drama. In the twists of intersecting
stories, one is left to ponder. Who is the victim? Who is the aggressor?



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About the Author

Shannon KirkShannon Kirk is a practicing attorney and a law professor. She attended West Virginia Wesleyan and St. John’s Universities, is a graduate of Suffolk Law School, and was a trial lawyer in Chicago prior to moving to Massachusetts. She has been honored three times by the Faulkner Society in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, a physicist, and their son. Method 15/33 is her first novel.

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“Method 15/33 is crowded with fascinating characters—even the spear
carriers pop off the page—but the standout is the kidnapped pregnant
teenager. Her captors want her baby. Little do they know they’ve
brought an insanely brilliant, angry, vengeful, borderline sociopath under
their roof. Somebody’s in big trouble… and it isn’t the teenager.”
—F. Paul Wilson, New York Times best-selling author of Santa Jack

“Completely original and totally kick ass! Shannon Kirk pulls no
punches in this adrenaline rush of a thriller where the victim is the
one to watch, while the kidnappers learn to fear. Loved it!”
—Lisa Gardner, New York Times best-selling author of Fear Nothing

“What happens when infant traffickers kidnap the wrong pregnant
teen? You get Method 15/33, a cross between The Lovely Bones and
Silence of the Lambs. Shannon Kirk’s debut thriller is a dark, literate
page-turner, utterly compelling. I read it in one sitting.”
—Leonard Rosen, Award-winning author of
All Cry Chaos and The Tenth Witness

“Wow. Ridiculously good. Crazy good. Brilliantly heart-stoppingly
nail-bitingly original, this is a true thriller tour de force.
Shannon Kirk is an instant star.”
—Hank Phillippi Ryan Agatha, Anthony winning author of Truth be Told


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Book Review: Rose Gold by Walter Mosley

Rose GoldRose Gold
An Easy Rawlins Mystery #13
Walter Mosley
Doubleday, September 2014
ISBN: 978-0-385-53597-7

This newest novel from the prolific Walter Mosley (whose next novel, in the Leonid McGill series, And Sometimes I Wonder About You, is due out in May) brings the return of private detective Ezekiel Porterhouse (“Easy”) Rawlins.  The last novel in the series was nearly two years ago, the highly acclaimed Little Green, which in turn was preceded six years prior to that by Blonde Faith, which seemingly ended with Easy’s demise in a car accident when he’d lost control of a car he was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway near Malibu.  This book takes place five months later.

The novel is set in post-war Los Angeles, an era of radical black nationalism, where “innocence was rarely a key factor for justice,” eerily also reflecting today’s recurring headlines of black men generally guilty of nothing more than walking/driving/whatever while black, shot by white police officers.  And I can’t think of another author today who can capture this quite like Mr. Mosley.

Now nearing 50, Easy, a black man with a sixth grade education, had moved from New Orleans to LA in the late forties, and in the opening pages is moving into a new home with his 12-year-old adopted daughter, Feather, and his adopted son, Jesus.  Among the usual cast of characters present is Easy’s “oldest and deadliest friend,” Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, computer expert Jackson Blue and his wife, Jewelle, and Melvin Suggs (a white man and the only LA cop Easy trusts, describing the LAPD as “morally bankrupt”).

Easy is approached by the special assistant to the Chief of Police who offers to pay handsomely if Easy will take on a missing person’s case, leaving Easy briefly speechless:  “No policeman had ever offered me money – – and I had been stopped, rousted, beaten, and caged by a thousand cops in my years on and near the street.”  A kidnapping is suspected, since the missing young woman, Rosemary Goldsmith (who Easy comes to think of as the titular Rose Gold), missing from her dorm at UC Santa Barbara for two weeks, is the daughter of a very wealthy weapons manufacturer and philanthropist.  But nothing in a Walter Mosley novel is as simple as it seems, and never more so than here.  The book combines Easy’s philosophizing with a quiet humor, has an intricate and somewhat convoluted plot, and houses a large (at times unwieldy) cast of characters.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2015.

Book Review: The Warning by Sophie Hannah and The After House by Michael Phillip Cash

The WarningThe Warning
Sophie Hannah
Witness Impulse, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-242884-4
Mass Market Paperback available August 2015

From the publisher—

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

When a kindly stranger does Chloe a good deed, she decides she must repay him. But in tracing him, she meets a sympathetic woman named Nadine, who warns Chloe to stay away from the man at all costs. “Give him nothing, tell him nothing, don’t trust him,” she says. “Avoid him like the plague.”

Chloe knows the sensible thing to do: walk away. But her curiosity gets the best of her. What is the truth about the good Samaritan? How dangerous could he be? And can Chloe find the answers without putting herself and her daughter in harm’s way?

Years ago, when I was a Girl Scout, both as a girl and, later, as a troop leader, one of my very favorite campfire songs was “The Ash Grove”. Since that song is pretty much the catalyst for everything that happens in this story, I was completely hooked from the beginning. Unfortunately, it took no time at all for me to recognize that Chloe is essentially a stalker and, perhaps worse, TSTL.

Make no mistake, Ms. Hannah has crafted a terrific story full of questions and suspense and interesting characters. It’s a good thing because, otherwise, I might have closed the book right when Chloe signed a note to a near-stranger “Lots of love”. What woman in her right mind does that? If I hadn’t closed it then, I would have when she muses about how he’d be so hurt at what someone else said about him. Yes, she’s got the obsessive gene for sure.

When Tom mentions diamonds in a joking manner, Chloe immediately jumps to a ridiculous assumption. What is wrong with this besotted woman? Wait…could it be that Chloe and Tom are two peas in the proverbial pod?

And then it all goes upside down.

One of Sophie Hannah‘s many talents is that she can keep me reading even when I’m sure I no longer want to. Mind you, I still think Chloe is more than a little off the rails but, still and all, I’m not the least bit sorry I continued on, if only because I had the chance to once again see Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, soon to be starring in their own book, Woman with a Secret, coming in August.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.


The After HouseThe After House
Michael Phillip Cash
CreateSpace, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-5006-0036-5
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Remy Galway and her daughter Olivia are rebuilding their life after a failed marriage in a 300 year old cottage in historic Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. Little do they know, another occupant is lurking in the haven of their own home. Will the After House be their shelter or their tomb?

The After House strikes me as a story that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a romance? A ghost story? A tale of love lost and love found? Of escaping an abusive relationship? Of foul play?

Actually, it’s all of the above and I think that works to its detriment because, as a relatively short book, we don’t have enough time to be really invested and the multiple threads don’t help. I also think that some of the behavior of the main character, Remy, becomes questionable because of the time restriction.

Why, for instance, is Remy virtually wallowing in self-pity when it’s been nearly a year since her divorce and surely longer since the events that ended her marriage? Why does she claim to be gunshy of relationships and then show herself to be otherwise? Why is whoever is out to cause her trouble so very, very incompetent?

Then there’s Captain Eli. I actually liked him much better than anyone else and had a good deal of sympathy for his inability to move on. Then again, I had to wonder why practically everyone can see him and/or feel his presence and, in some cases, even touch him physically?

Oh, I also liked a couple of characters named Sten and Marum but to tell you why would be to spoil things so I’ll say no more about them.

Anyhoo, I choose to look at this as a simple ghost story with some other elements thrown in to flesh out the tale and, as such, it was a few short hours nicely spent. I don’t regret the time ;-)

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.