Book Reviews: January Jinx by Juliet Kincaid and The Beige Man by Helene Tursten

January JinxJanuary Jinx
The Calendar Mysteries #1
Juliet Kincaid
AzureSky Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-9899504-9-7
Trade Paperback

Arminta (Misty) Wilcox watches a soldier fall off a landing near the train depot in Kansas City, and a man claiming to be a sheriff from a nearby Kansas town accuses her of pushing the man. This is in 1899. The West Bottoms is a dirty, dusty area filled with railroad tracks, shanties, and manufacturing plants. Nineteen-year-old Minty lives some blocks away on Quality Hill and is out seeking employment after attending business college.

We follow Minty through hilarious misadventures as the spunky young lady goes to great lengths to clear her name and find out what happened to the soldier. In the process, she experiences a budding romance with a young private investigator. At the same time, we learn what Kansas City was like at the turn of the century, its layout and people. The author did extensive research in order to authentically portray the dress, manners, occupations, and mores of the various social strata as well as descriptions of the buildings and businesses.

In the first book of this new cozy mystery series, bullheaded Minty’s humorous escapades keep us engaged. The characters and setting jump off the pages and pull us into Kansas City as it was in 1900.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, November 2015.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

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The Beige ManThe Beige Man
An Irene Huss Investigation Set in
Sweden #7
Helene Tursten

Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
Soho, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61695-400-0
Hardcover

This is the 7th and newest in the series featuring Inspector Irene Huss, head of the Violent Crimes Unit of the Goteborg police in the west of Sweden and former jujitsu champion more than 20 years ago (now past 40).  It is February, and they have been enduring a very harsh winter (not unexpectedly).  As the story opens, the police are in hot pursuit of a BMW automobile which had been reported stolen.  As the policemen are chasing  the car, they witness that same car as it hits a pedestrian, sending him crashing into the ground before it continues to speed along the roadway, leaving its victim lying where he landed.  Ultimately, the ensuing investigation reveals that the dead man was a retired police officer known to most of the cops looking for the killers.  And things only get worse from there:  Shortly after this episode, the body of a young girl, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, is discovered in a root cellar a short distance away, the body apparently having been there for several months.

Her colleagues are still Superintendent Sven Andersson [62 and seriously overweight, with high blood pressure and asthma, now something of a lame duck, as he was about to move to the Cold Case Squad], and Tommy Persson, and Hanna Rauhala, with whom she was frequently partnered.

The story lines alternate between the crime-solving and Irene’s personal life, itself very interesting.  Her home life centers around her gourmet chef husband and her twin daughters, now 19 years old and about to begin independent lives (always a challenge for the about-to-be empty-nest parents), and her mother, Gerd (77 years old and becoming more frail) and her 82-year-old significant other, Sture.

As the investigation proceeds, there are indications that sex slavery is involved, and the Human Trafficking Unit joins the hunt.  The head of that unit offers “The fact is that human trafficking today turns over more money than the narcotics trade.”  The investigation takes Irene to Tenerife, where the body count rises precipitously.  She is told “the demand from the clients rules the market. . . If they’re ready to pay, then everything is for sale, and I mean everything.”

I loved the tip-of-the-hat given to the late Ed McBain and his 87th Precinct tales.  The plot is somewhat complex, but no less interesting for that, and the writing is very good.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2015.

Book Review: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

The Game of Love and DeathThe Game of Love and Death
Martha Brockenbrough
Arthur A. Levine Books, April 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-66834-7
Hardcover

Aren’t we all sometimes pawns in the game of life? Love and Death have been playing the same game over and over since the time of Cleopatra. Each chooses an infant, one male, one female who will meet when they’re older and fall in love…maybe. If love persists, Love wins, if love falters, Death wins and claims her chosen as a victim.

It’s 1920 and the latest round is about to begin, this time in Seattle with two babies who couldn’t be further apart given the times. Love chooses first by appearing in the nursery where Henry Bishop, a Caucasian, lies in his crib. Love pricks his finger and lets baby Henry suckle on his blood, thus setting his part of the game in motion.

One night later in a much poorer neighborhood, Death picks up a baby girl of African-American heritage named Flora Saudade. After carrying the child to the window where they watch snow falling, Death sheds one black tear which she captures on her fingertip, using it to write the word someday on the infant’s forehead. Thus is the game sealed.

While the rules of the game often seem arbitrary and stacked in Death’s favor, Love harbors little ill will toward his opponent (Love is male, Death, female). Both can assume whatever shape they choose, even appearing for extended periods as people familiar to their chosen players. In fact it is this very ability that factors into how both Flora and Henry interact when they meet seventeen years later.

By then, Flora’s parents have been dead a very long time, having perished when hit by a drunken police officer the night Death chose her. Henry is likewise an orphan. His mother and sister perished in an influenza outbreak and his father, terribly distraught by their loss, jumped to his death, leaving Henry to be taken in by his father’s best friend, the owner of the Seattle newspaper.

Flora has fallen in love with flying and has been taken under the wing of a French war hero who owns a fancy biplane that she maintains and flies whenever she’s allowed. Her other source of income comes from singing jazz in the club she and her uncle own, the only legacy left after her parents’ death. She’s an amazing singer, something Henry discovers when he convinces his best friend and son of his benefactor, Ethan, that they should check out the club. This isn’t the first time Henry has seen Flora. Ethan took him along when he went to do a feature on the plane and Flora was running a preflight check on it. Henry is also someone who has music in his blood as he plays the bass and loves to improvise.

While Death has never lost, there’s something about this match that worries her, so she pulls out all the stops, as if the fact that blacks and whites simply don’t mix in 1937 wasn’t sufficient to doom any sort of spark between Flora and Henry. The roadblocks thrown up in front of each lover, the direness of the times and all the gyrations both the players and their manipulators must go through by the end of the story will keep most readers enthralled. While the pace might be a bit slow for some, I loved this book, the characters and the sense of elegance it creates. Astute readers will also appreciate the relationship and insight Love and Death have with and about each other. Teens and adults who like an offbeat love story with some decidedly paranormal aspects will enjoy this book.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, September 2015.

Eggcorns, Malaprops and Mondegreens

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 http://www.jeannematthews.com.

As a child, I recited the words of the Lord’s Prayer exactly as I heard them. “Our Father who art in heaven, how Lord be thy name?” How, Lord. “How” sounded like a solemn word of greeting, like what the Indians on TV said when they met up with the cowboys. It made sense that you wouldn’t say an ordinary, informal “hi” to the Lord, and the word “hallowed” wasn’t yet in my vocabulary. Just recently, I learned the linguistic term for my mistake. I had committed an “eggcorn.”

Jeanne Matthews EggcornsThere’s a science to auditory perception. The sound waves enter the ear and, through a complex process of neural decoding, the brain translates those waves into meaning. Given the many peculiar idiosyncrasies of English, it’s a miracle we can communicate at all. The language is a hodgepodge of homophones (tale, tail), paronyms (accept, except), and oronyms (I scream, ice cream). Small wonder there’s an occasional bit of slippage betwixt the ear and the brain.

Before 2003, there wasn’t a name for my blooper. An article on the website Language Log about a woman who misheard the word “acorn” inspired the new coinage. “From little eggcorns mighty oaks do grow.” And from little misunderstandings, an entire database does grow. If you’d like to go eggcorn hunting, you can find more than 600 examples at http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/

Linguists define an eggcorn as a substitution of a misheard word for the correct word. The substitution is perfectly logical, but it alters the original meaning, sometimes shockingly. My favorite eggcorn is a twist on the idiom “raked over the coals.” Recounting the story of a bad day at the office, a friend told me that she’d been “raped over the coals.” The alteration added a whole new dimension of horror. I figured it probably hadn’t happened, but she worked for lawyers. It wasn’t impossible.

Jeanne Matthews MalapropismThe difference between an eggcorn and a malapropism is plausibility. Malapropisms make no sense at all. Mrs. Malaprop, a fictional character in a 1775 play by Richard Sheridan, was forever inserting a nonsensical, out-of-context word in place of the similarly sounding correct word. Lots of writers have used this literary device for comedic effect, including one of my favorite authors, Peter De Vries. “I’ve been married seventeen years,” declares one of his characters, “and never had an organism.” Another fictional character with a propensity for malapropisms was Miss Emily Litella, portrayed by Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live. She opposed the “deaf penalty” and the campaign to “make Puerto Rico a steak.”

Malapropisms are constantly creeping into political discourse. I’m particularly fond of former Chicago Mayor Daley’s reference to “Alcoholics Unanimous.” And one cannot misunderestimate the contributions of George W. Bush, a man who recognized “the fallacy of humans.” So prolific a malapropist was he that Bushism has entered the lexicon as a synonym for semantic and linguistic flubs. Wikipedia cites numerous examples of Bushisms, including his promise to “restore chaos and order” and “make the pie higher.” Impressively muddleheaded, although as Australia’s Tony Abbott reminds us, “No one is the suppository of all wisdom.”

Jeanne Matthews MondegreenMisunderstood song lyrics are called mondegreens, a word derived from an old Scottish ballad. “They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray and laid him on the green.” What the writer Sylvia Wright heard was, “They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray and Lady Mondegreen.” Such misinterpretations occur most often with strings of words and syllables that can be logically parsed in several ways. Credence Clearwater gave us a memorable mondegreen in their hit “Bad Moon Rising.” Was that last line “There’s a bad moon on the rise” or “There’s a bathroom on the right”?

We’ve all sung our share of mondegreens, but it’s not always our ears to blame. Some singers mangle their lyrics beyond even the FBI’s ability to decipher them. Trained investigators listened to “Louis, Louis” for over two years and couldn’t decipher a single intelligible word. Belting out mondegreens in the shower is not as embarrassing as Where the Bones are Buriedperpetrating a malapropism in public. As for eggcorns, with a new English word being coined every ninety-eight minutes, we’re bound to stumble sooner or later. That’s no reason to curl up in the feeble position or get your dandruff up. Eggcorns are pearls of achievement – the imaginative translation of a garbled transmission into something rational and interesting.

A written eggcorn is a hearse of a different color. No respectable writer wants to create an eggcorn that will live under her byline for all eternity, regardless how imaginative or interesting. For this reason, we have learned NEVER to rely on Spell Check. We remain skeptical of our brilliant phraseology and fly to the dictionary if we have the teensiest suspicion about definition or usage. The unintentional publication of eggcorns can and must be nipped in the butt.

Book Review: Dead Upon a Time by Elizabeth Paulson

Dead Upon a TimeDead Upon a Time
Elizabeth Paulson
Scholastic Press, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-64046-6
Hardcover

A brand new fairy tale that feels familiar and comforting, complete with an evil witch (most probably), a damsel in distress, err….. make that a “resident tragic orphan”, and an ostracized giant killer with an opportunity for redemption. Ms. Paulson unravels the bewitching narrative with relish and wit.

As young Kate trudges through the woods to her grandmother’s cottage, clever clues reveal this will be no ordinary story. “It wouldn’t do for someone with her bloodline to be spooked by a common forest.” Nostalgia nudges oh so briefly and is quickly brushed aside. Creepy quickly turns to true danger.

Having essentially grown up on her own; being actually attacked by wild wolves, then stumbling into the frigid cold of the abandoned home atop the mountain, Kate realizes she is absolutely alone. Her grandmother would never have left willingly. Intricate, eerie, woven tapestries taunt, seeming to tell a story of several sufferers imprisoned in separate, yet strikingly similar cells.

The folks in the village below, for reasons unbeknownst to her, have tolerated Kate, at best; allowing her to sleep in a hayloft in exchange for mountains of mending until her presence could not be tolerated and she was forced to move to the next neighbor. These were not people that would help her find and rescue her grandmother. The boy who dared to taunt a giant however, was the exception to just about every rule. He was also wanted, would be almost impossible to find.

The tendrils of mystery have slipped from the pages and ensnared this reader. As Kate plummets down the mountain, her all encompassing love for the only family she knows creates empathy and her fierce determination in the face of utter despair drums up hope. Her resolve strengthens, her courage becomes clear; the pace quickens and the mystery becomes an adventure.

Forming the most unlikely of alliances lends humor to harrowing situations while bonds are built based on trust. Answers earned along the way applaud the intelligence and observation skills of young adults while pointing to the pitfalls of jealousy. With what can only be called a witchy way, Ms. Paulson wraps the winding story satisfactorily…and yet, I can’t help but think (make that “hope”) that this is not The End.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2016.

Waiting On Wednesday (17)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Continue reading

Spotlight on Saving Jason by Michael Sears—and a Giveaway!

Saving Jason

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Title: Saving Jason
Series: A Jason Stafford Novel #4

Author: Michael Sears
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Genres: Mystery, Thriller

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Synopsis

Jason Stafford used to be a hot Wall Street trader, went too
far, and paid for it in prison. Now a financial investigator,
he’s been asked to look into rumors of a hostile takeover of
his firm, but he has no idea it will turn his whole life upside
down. Suddenly embroiled in a grand jury investigation of
Mob-related activities on Wall Street, and threatened by some
very serious men, he is thrust into witness protection with his
young autistic son. And then his son disappears. Has he
been kidnapped, or worse? With no choice but to act, Stafford
has no choice but to come out of hiding and risk everything to
save his son, his firm, his pregnant girlfriend—and himself.

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Goodreads

Pre-order Links:

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About the Author

Michael SearsMichael Sears was sixty-one when his first novel, Black Fridays, was published. After nine years as a professional actor, he got an MBA from Columbia University and spent more than twenty years on Wall Street, rising to become the managing director in the bond trade and underwriting divisions of Paine Webber and, later, Jefferies & Co., before heeding his father’s advice: “When it stops being fun, get out.” He did so in 2005, and returned to what had always given him the greatest joy—writing—studying at NYU and the New School.

The temptations that drag down some of his characters are well known to him, as are the insider-trading perils that form the core of the new novel. The autism is known to him, too, from his extended family, and he has seen the struggles and the rewards.

Sears holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, and he lives in Sea Cliff, New York, with his wife, artist Barbara Segal. They have two sons.

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To enter the drawing for an advance
reading copy of Saving Jason
by Michael Sears, leave a comment
below. There will be 3 winners
and the winning names will
be drawn Saturday evening,
January 30th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US.

Book Review: Long Way Down by Michael Sears

Long Way DownLong Way Down
A Jason Stafford Novel #3
Michael Sears
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, February 2015
ISBN: 978-0-399-16671-6
Hardcover

Dark, turbulent and dangerous waters of high finance, inventive genius, and cunning power grabs are all at play in this taut, modern thriller. Well-written crime novels contain at least three important elements: a strong interesting plot, intriguing well-defined characters and persistent forward thrust.

Some display other attributes that keep readers turning pages, such as good dialogue and good descriptive narrative that draws the reader into the story so that we almost experience the action along with the characters. Long Way Down contains all of these as strong, well-written elements.

In addition, the author has achieved an excellent balance between his protagonist’s professional life and attitudes and his need and desire to be a father in close attendance to his autistic son. A widower and an ex-con, former Wall street trader, Jason Stafford is now a free-lance fraud finder. His ability to tease out secrets and point an accurate accusatory finger at perpetrators of various sins against the SEC and American investors is becoming well-known on the Street and he’s making pots of money. His job also allows him the flexibility to help raise his young autistic son. There are several moving, penetrating scenes in the novel which inform and illustrate, not only physical relationships between the two, but psychological as well.

Jack Haley, a brilliant engineer, is nearing a break-through in his development of a cheap and viable biofuel. He is abruptly indicted for insider trading. Naturally he denies it and Stafford, brought in by one of Haley’s investors to root out the truth, believes Haley. Unraveling the complicated plot requires a good deal of computer research, travel around the US and ducking by Stafford a wide-spread net of killers. In between some truly clever ruses, Stafford is desperate to maintain a good relationship with his son and new girlfriend. This becomes more and more hazardous as the net tightens.

Readers will surely ride with Jason Stafford, agonize with him over several moral issues, and be relieved they are not called on to guard Stafford’s back. This novel is a masterful thrilling experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.