Book Review: The Silence of the Llamas by Anne Canadeo

The Silence of the LlamasThe Silence of the Llamas
A Black Sheep Knitting Mystery
Anne Canadeo
Gallery Books, January 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-4479-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Llama Drama!

Ellie and Ben Krueger arrived in Plum Harbor eager to live out their dream—tending a herd of gentle, friendly llamas for fun and profit, on a farm just beyond the village. Their grand opening fiber festival kicks off on a bright note but abruptly ends in malicious mayhem. Knitting shop owner Maggie Messina and her friends soon learn that this is not the first time a vicious visitor has called.

The Kruegers suspect that Justin Ridley, their eccentric neighbor, is the troublemaker. A misfit and loner, he’s known to roam the woods all night, though no one knows for sure what he’s hunting. Then there’s Angelica Rossi—the lovely owner of a rival fiber farm—who’s been as busy as a spider, spinning spiteful lies about the Kruegers’ yarns. Or, are the naïve newcomers merely caught in the tangle of Plum Harbor politics, and an intense land protection debate?

Suddenly, vandalism turns to murder—and the Kruegers’ dream descends into a nightmare. The Black Sheep knitters must pull the threads together and uncover this crafty menace . . . before more lives—and more llamas— are lost.

First, a warning for those readers who can’t abide any harm done to animals—there is some of that in this book. The attacks on the animals are not overdone and they mean something in the story, i.e., they’re not gratuitous, but they exist.

On the whole, this is a good mystery but there are aspects to the construction that I think detract from the story. For a traditional, semi-cozy mystery, the murder is much too long in coming, a bit more than half way in, and then it’s approximately two thirds in before the ladies of the knitting club start snooping. In other words, this is a s-l-o-w story.

Speaking of snooping, Maggie Messina, owner of the Black Sheep Knitting Shop, is theoretically the leader of the club and thus the sleuths but she has remarkably little to do with the investigation. In fact, these ladies really don’t do much detecting at all when compared to their counterparts in other craft-related mysteries.

My final negative comment is that, in the electronic ARC I read, there were numerous instances of multiple POVs in the same paragraph. That’s one of the cardinal construction sins for me but I don’t know if this was a typical error found in ARCs or even just one of those glitches found in ebooks sometimes. It’s entirely possible that the finished products, electronic and print, are done correctly. (I will say that I don’t remember any overload of other grammatical or spelling mistakes and I appreciate that.)

The end result is a book that I found lacking in several ways but there are some positive points. The mystery itself is engaging and many of the characters are quite likeable. I also enjoyed learning a little about llamas and alpacas and creating yarn and knitting afficionados will be glad of the craft tips they’ll find. This is the fifth in the series—I haven’t read the earlier books but they’ve been well-regarded by many and I think I’ll just call this one a bit of a stumble.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2013.

Book Review: Time’s Twisted Arrow by Rysa Walker

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Time’s Twisted Arrow by Rysa Walker

Publication date: October 1st 2012

Genre: YA Science Fiction

“Sharp writing, a flair for dialogue and a big, twisting imagination.” – Kirkus Reviews.

 

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Time's Twisted Arrow 2Time’s Twisted Arrow
Book One of The CHRONOS Files
Rysa Walker
Gypsy Moon Books, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-9883511-0-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

They weren’t panic attacks. Of that, seventeen year old Kate is certain, no matter what the shrink told her parents. But it’s even harder to accept the explanation offered by her terminally ill grandmother – that Kate has inherited designer DNA from the time-traveling historians of CHRONOS, who were stranded in the past by a saboteur. Kate knows that her grandmother’s story could easily be the brain tumor talking, but that doesn’t explain the odd medallion or the two young men – one of them hauntingly familiar — who simply vanish before her eyes on the subway. It doesn’t explain Trey, the handsome stranger who now occupies Kate’s assigned seat in trig class. And it definitely doesn’t explain why  Kate is now in an alternate timeline, where leaders of a previously unknown cult hold great power and are planning a rather drastic form of environmental defense.

In this new reality, Kate’s grandmother was murdered at age twenty-two on a research trip to the past, which means that Kate’s mother was never born, her father doesn’t know her and, for all intents and purposes, she doesn’t exist. The only thing keeping her from disappearing entirely is the strange blue medallion around her neck, and the only thing keeping her sane is her burgeoning relationship with Trey. To restore the time line, Kate must travel back to 1893 and keep herself and her grandmother clear of H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who is stalking young women at the Chicago World’s Fair. But that choice comes at a price – she’ll remember the past few months with Trey, but when he looks at her, he’ll see a total stranger.

The basic premise of Time’s Twisted Arrow is the well-known time travel conundrum: if you know it will change history, including whether certain people exist, are those potential changes justified to stop evil? Rysa Walker offers her take and she does so with a very interesting story.

When Kate finds out that she has the genetic ability to travel through time and that her help is sorely needed to correct some changes made in the past by a cult leader and his devotees, she’s skeptical but, once she realizes that the missing timeline affects her grandmother and herself, it becomes clear that she has little choice. Here, though, is where the author takes the reader down an unfamiliar path and I loved it.

Kate travels back to the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair) and into the horrendous world of a true-life monster; Ms. Walker’s evocation of this nightmare is right on target. Having this as an important setting in her story is brilliant because it brings to mind the question of changing history in a very individualistic way—how could a time traveler not want to save as many victims of terrible events as possible no matter what collateral damage there might be?

On the whole, I enjoyed this first in a series with only a few quibbles. I really couldn’t like Kate’s grandmother very much and Kate’s acceptance of her new-found ability and her “duty” came much too easily to her. I also found it annoying that she kept telling everybody about it, something I’m pretty sure would not be appreciated by others in her very small fraternity, and I could do without the stale romantic triangle, even though I liked both of the guys. Still, this is a story that intrigues me and I’m looking forward to the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2013.

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Author Information

Rysa WalkerRYSA WALKER grew up on a cattle ranch in the South. Her options for entertainment were talking to cows and reading books. (Occasionally, she would mix things up a bit and read books to cows.) On the rare occasion that she gained control of the television, she watched Star Trek and imagined living in the future, on distant planets, or at least in a town big enough to have a stop light.

When not writing, she teaches history and government in North Carolina, where she shares an office with her husband, who heroically pays the mortgage each month, and a golden retriever named Lucy. She still doesn’t get control of the TV very often, thanks to two sports-obsessed kids.

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The Five Senses: Hear, Sight, Touch, Smell, Taste

Kathleen Delaney with BooksKathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to share some thoughts about the importance of our five senses.

I often wake up to a concert outside my bedroom window. It’s warm here in the early spring and summer and I can leave the windows open all night. I love the feel of the cool air that comes in toward morning, and I love the advent of dawn when the stillness of night is broken by the uneven chorus of tons of birds. It usually starts a little earlier than I plan to wake up, so I lay there, thinking how pleasant it is, how glad I am to be able to hear it. Which, of course, got me to thinking about all of our senses.

We take them for granted. Birds singing? What a lovely way to wake up. Bread baking in the oven? I breathe deeply to savor it. It’s out of the oven and ready to cut, to slather with butter. My mouth waters just thinking how it will taste. It’s spring. I take my still warm bread with me into the garden. My roses are budding out. The beauty of that first bud takes my breath away, as does its sweet fragrance. So does the softness of my granddaughter’s cheek as I run my finger over it when I hold her in my arms. It never occurs to me to think what my life might be like without one of my senses.

It never occurred to me to think what my life might be like without a leg, either, but I’ve had no choice but to face that reality.  However, learning to live with that loss has made me think what it might be like to be without a lot of other things I’ve always taken for granted. It’s been a worthwhile process. I’ve slowed down some, but that’s been good. We miss so much when we rush. I’ve started to notice things I barely glanced at before.  I’ve also noticed things that are sometimes missing in my writing and in the writing of others. The 5 senses.

Murder Half BakedIf the characters in our books are going to live and breathe, they need senses as much as we do. So why, in many of the books I’ve read lately, do they seem to be missing?  We rely on our senses to tell us things, important things. Our sense of smell triggers memories, both good and bad. We establish a sense of place in the world through our sight. Taste can both encourage us to eat food that nourishes us and protect us from food which has spoiled. Touch can be many things, sensual, tactile, alerting us to danger. Hearing enables us to communicate. Right now you’re saying they do more than that, and they do. So, why are so many characters in books allowed none? Or perhaps I should say, allowed to be aware of none.  If they see, they don’t share it with the reader. The people they watch, the sun shining through the trees, the sea of red tail lights on the freeway at night, none makes an impression on these cardboard people. Neither does the discordant symphony of rush hour traffic. We have no idea how touching someone makes them feel. Well, sometimes we do but it usually has nothing to do with small children and tenderness.

Our five senses are our connection to the world. They guide us through our ever day activities and establish our boundaries of communication. We would be bereft without them.

If we rob the characters in our books of them, so are they.

Book Review: Fractured Soul by Rachel McClellan

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Fractured SoulFractured Soul
Fractured Light #2
Rachel McClellan
Sweetwater Books/Cedar Fort, February 2013
ISBN 978-1-4621-1180-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Llona will do whatever it takes to protect her newfound friends and home, but the dark plot that is threatening Lucent Academy, a school that’s supposed to be a safe place for Auras, may be too powerful for even Llona to defeat.

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Sometimes readers, including me, approach a book that’s self-published or published by a small press with a certain amount of skepticism or even trepidation. That’s because there is so much dreck out there these days and finding the gems is not easy. Allow me to set your mind at rest—this is no schlock put out by a writer wannabe toiling away in her parent’s basement. Well, Rachel McClellan could be toiling away in a basement for all I know but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t belong to her parents 😉 Anyway, there is much to love in this book and very little to be snooty about.

First, the construction. The author can write and she also has a very good editor. Grammar is good, typos are minimal, the language flows as it should and the ebook conversion (I read an e-ARC) is close to flawless, including some handwritten passages. The only hiccup is that, on occasion, two voices speak in the same paragraph. This occurs infrequently enough that I feel safe in saying it’s one of those ebook glitches that happen sometimes, not because the author and/or her editor don’t know better.

Then there’s the story. I have not read the first book and, most of the time, it doesn’t matter. That’s the case here; while I obviously don’t have the details of what went on in that book, the author offers just enough information that I felt up to speed very quickly. You should be aware, though, that spoilers of the first book are inevitable so don’t go getting a mad on with Ms. McClellan if you choose to start with this second book.

I really like this storyline, one of the most creative I’ve seen. A school for Auras and Furies with a side of Lizens? Very, very cool. I also like that this is not a school with a bunch of evil adults all bent on misusing the powers these girls possess. The author’s character development is strong and I really felt a connection with the main players, especially the four girls, Christian and Liam. Even Jake, whom we never actually see, is fleshed out enough to truly understand the bond between him and Llona. Oh, and thank you, Ms. McClellan, for painting the Vykens as the nasty, bloodthirsty, powerhungry creatures they are, not a sparkle in sight.

A note here—Fractured Soul is billed as a young adult paranormal romance but it also falls solidly into the mystery/suspense genre with the questions of who is behind the dark activities, what is the intent, will the good guys figure things out in time? Llona also shows herself to be a pretty decent lead detective (not to mention being kickbutt in general).

Are some things predictable? Yes. It was not hard to figure out who the ultimate bad guy was as soon as I met him and there were a few other events that were no surprise. There were also some “oh, cool!” moments (Arik and Aaron? Love ’em!) and the motivations of some of the characters were in doubt until at least 4/5 of the way through. On the other hand, the ending is truly heartbreaking and, yet, still left me with a desire to know what comes next. I’ll be looking forward to Fractured Truth coming out a year from now and, in the meantime, I’ll get my fix by reading the first book, Fractured Light.

 

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2013.

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About the Author

Rachel McClellanRachel McClellan was born and raised in Idaho, a place secretly known for its supernatural creatures. When she’s not in her writing lair, she’s partying with her husband and four crazy, yet lovable, children. Rachel’s love for storytelling began as a child when the moon first possessed the night. For when the lights went out, her imagination painted a whole new world. And what a scary world it was…

Social Media links:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorRachelMcClellan

Website: www.RachelMcClellan.com

Twitter: @RachelMcClellan

Blog: http://blackbirdinmywindow.blogspot.com

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My Protagonist And Me

Triss SteinTriss Stein is a small–town girl from New York state’s dairy country who has spent most of her adult life living and working in New York city. This gives her the useful double vision of a stranger and a resident for writing mysteries about Brooklyn, her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home.

Where do they come from, those characters who populate our books?  Many authors say all of them have bits of the author’s own self. Others say they are entirely from the imagination and, because writers imagine things, they can write characters who differ from themselves by gender, ethnicity, age, occupation and of course, historical era, too. (That loaded topic could be a whole other blog. Or book)

Sometimes there is a paradox when an author denies vehemently that a fictional character or story is in any way based on his own life. This usually happens when it is obvious that the story is his life, yet he is shocked –  shocked, I say! – that anyone would think so.  And sometimes they just show up.  A character opens a door, and there she is, fully ready to take the stage.

When I tried to write my first mystery, and set it in my Brooklyn neighborhood and the life around me, I could not make it work. The protagonist came out being me and I was not able to imagine a story about that.

I solved that problem by writing a book set somewhere else and having a main character who wasn’t me at all. She was a single, childless, worldly journalist, my exact opposite. She was my road not taken, the person I dreamed about becoming when I was much younger. Eventually I knew I had not thought about her nearly enough. Plus, I didn’t actually know much about working at a newspaper and I was running out of excuses to keep her out of the office!

For my new book, Brooklyn Bones, first in a new series, I wanted a character who was not me but had a more complicated, richer life than that first heroine. She needed to be younger than me, so she would be dealing with the complications of building her life. (Now she’s a lot younger, as it took a long time to get it right. She hasn’t aged a bit but I sure have.)  I wanted her to be a native, old time Brooklynite (not me) but with extra perspective (me, a little bit).  Her current life, in a gentrifying part of town and a Ph. D program in urban history, is a long way from the blue collar Brooklyn Bonesneighborhood where she grew up. (Aha! A source of conflict, which all mysteries need.)  I added a little – no, a lot! – more conflict by giving her a teen-aged daughter.  (Nope, I didn’t have them when I started the book. Mine were all grown up, another way I have perspective she doesn’t.) Her life has not given her much sophistication but it has given her a lot of what used to be called moxie. (Do I have that? Not really.) She is a single mom, whose young husband died in an accident. (I’ve been married a lot of decades.)

And yet. Because  I wanted to write about being a mother, she is one. Because I wanted to write about Brooklyn’s varied, fascinating and often mythologized past,  she is a historian whose work takes her into some dark stories, both old and new. So though she is not me, in some ways she is me.

There was one more thing I needed. I could make long lists of all the protagonist qualities that would help to tell my stories, but the book didn’t start until I heard her voice. My stories need a narrator. Meet Erica Donato.

 “It began with a sobbing phone call from my daughter, the kind of call every parent dreads.  All I made out  was that something terrible had happened; she was terrified, she would never get over it and it was all my fault. Chris is fifteen. Pretty much everything  is all my fault. “

When I wrote those words, I  knew I had my heroine.  She’s not the person I am, and not the person I once wanted to be but she is a person I would like to know.

Book Review: Trapped by Kevin Hearne

TrappedTrapped
The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book Five
Kevin Hearne
Del Rey, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-345-53364-7
Mass Market Paperback
Random House Audio, November 2012
Narrated by Luke Daniels
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

After twelve years of secret training, Atticus O’Sullivan is finally ready to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth and double the number of Druids in the world. But on the eve of the ritual, the world that thought he was dead abruptly discovers that he’s still alive, and they would much rather he return to the grave.
 
Having no other choice, Atticus, his trusted Irish wolfhound, Oberon, and Granuaile travel to the base of Mount Olympus, where the Roman god Bacchus is anxious to take his sworn revenge—but he’ll have to get in line behind an ancient vampire, a band of dark elves, and an old god of mischief, who all seem to have KILL THE DRUID at the top of their to-do lists.

Sometimes, nothing will suit my reading mood except a fun story and Kevin Hearne is one of my favorite go-to authors for that. The whole idea of Atticus being a 2000-year-old druid, the last remaining, is wonderful but it’s even better that he passes for 21 (in the first book), he’s never short of funds, he swings a mean sword, he has a fabulous Irish wolfhound named Oberon and he’s just plain awesome. I love this line from a Publishers Weekly review of an earlier book—

“Hearne, a self-professed comic-book nerd, has turned his love of awesome dudes whacking mightily at evil villains into a superb urban fantasy debut.”

That pretty much sums up how I feel about The Iron Druid Chronicles and I dread to think of it’s inevitable end (as of right now, it seems there will be nine novels). No need to worry about that right now, though, because I have Trapped to savor and at least one more novel and novella and a handful of short stories to go later this year. As for this installment, I love it just a teensy bit less than the first four books and the novella preceding this one. Why do I say that when I’m such a fan of Atticus, Granuaile and Oberon? There are two issues that detracted from the pure joy I usually find in Hearne‘s writing.

First, there are too many characters. As for actual count, I didn’t bother with being THAT obsessive about it and there may be no more than in Hammered with all its Norse gods, frost giants, demon hunters, etc., but Trapped somehow seems more populated and I found it a bit difficult to keep them all straight. The second thing is there were a few passages of an educational bent that reminded me too much of a classroom seminar.

Oh, one other thing—not enough Oberon! OK, his amount of page time may have been appropriate for the story but there’s just no such thing as too much Oberon if you ask me. You’d have to have the humor of a rock not to laugh out loud when Oberon gives Atticus the sex talk or when he claims he should be knighted Sir Oberon for his literary achievements  😉 By the way, if you’re new to the series, Oberon and Atticus have quite lively conversations but it’s all between the two of them, made possible by the fact that…duh…Atticus is a druid and he can do cool stuff like that.

Still and all, I love that the supernatural world has discovered the big secret, that Atticus is alive, and now there are a whole lot of supes out to get him. You can’t help thinking he’s ticked off an awful lot of these guys over the centuries and you also can’t help thinking that his band of himself, a dog and a sort of girlfriend are a very small army. How is he going to get himself out of this colossal mess?

Despite the few shortcomings I’ve mentioned, I still love Trapped, so much that I read it twice, once in egalley form and then the audio book edition. Why? It’s quite simple, really—Luke Daniels is one of the best narrators in the business and he’s just plain brilliant with The Iron Druid Chronicles. I always know which character is speaking and, quite honestly, all he has to do is say one word in Oberon’s voice and I’m in hysterics.

So, looking for a fun read? You can’t do better than this but, if you haven’t read the earlier books, you really should start at the beginning with Hounded and get caught up in time for Hunted this June. By the way, if you want a little taste, head on over to Mr. Hearne‘s website and you’ll find a couple of free short stories (but no promises they’ll be there forever).

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2013.

Sir Oberon Getting His Knighthood

Sir Oberon Getting His Knighthood

Solving Crime the Hard Way

J. R. LindermuthA retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth lives and writes in central Pennsylvania. Since his retirement he has served as librarian of his county historical society where he assists patrons with research and genealogy. He is the author of 12 novels. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers, EPIC and the Short Mystery Society.

Sooner Than Gold, the second in my Sheriff Sylvester Tilghman series, is coming in March from Wild Oaks, the Western imprint of Oak Tree Press.

Technically, it’s not a Western in terms of setting, since it takes place in Pennsylvania in 1898. Tilghman is the third of his family to hold the job of sheriff in a rural community in these novels set in the 1890s. Those of us who choose to set our crime stories in the past give ourselves the additional problem of getting the history right.

History too often gets a bad rap. Students dismiss it as boring. Politicians and others with a biased agenda abuse its factuality. But the truth is out there and available to any willing to take the time to search. Since that involves time and effort, history is either ignored or perverted.

I’m one of those weird birds who actually enjoy research. It was a necessary part of my past life as a newspaper reporter and editor. Since I still write a weekly newspaper column on local history and serve as librarian of my county historical society, it remains a part of my routine.

Fallen from GraceDelving into old newspapers lends credence to my setting. Getting the investigative part right takes a little more work than depicting the daily life of my characters, their attire, social pursuits, dining and other activity.

Police like Tilghman in the 19th century lacked the forensic advantages available to their modern counterparts.

For instance, at one point Syl remarks that though the British had developed a fingerprinting system in 1893 it hadn’t come into wide use in the states and particularly not in small towns like his. In the previous novel, Fallen From Grace, he’d lauded the telegraph as a great boon to law enforcement.

In the 1890s a police officer had to rely on his experience, instincts and knowledge of people rather than the scientific advances we tend to take for granted. Police still rely to a great extent of those earlier virtues, though the forensic elements sometimes make the job just a little easier.