Book Review: The Color of Fear by Judy Alter

The Color of Fear
A Kelly O’Connell Mystery #7
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-9990371-0-2
Trade Paperback

From the author—

The Color of Fear marks Judy Alter’s return to mystery fiction and the Kelly O’Connell series after an absence of more than a year. This time, the indomitable Keisha narrates the short tale wherein Kelly and her family live under the threat of infant Gracie’s kidnapping. The story serves as a reprise of many of the previous novels in the series, as Keisha, in her search for the kidnapper, recalls Kelly’s earlier adventures.

Keisha remains outspoken and independent as she balances her need to protect Kelly and her family with her love for new husband, José Thornberry. Some but not all of Kelly’s friends and foes from previous stories appear here, along with such new characters as Clyde, the guard dog, and Cowboy, the homeless guy with a soft heart.

For anyone who hasn’t read all the preceding books in this series or for those who haven’t read any of them, this nifty little novella (or short story depending on your definition) can fill some of the gaps. Besides the current adventure, Keisha also shares tidbits about past exploits so we’re pretty much up to date…although, of course, reading the full length novels will offer much more. Here, we get tiny teasers.

Keisha is the standout character in this particular story, seemingly the only one except Mike, Kelly’s police captain husband, who keeps a level head in the current crisis. Threats are being made against a little baby and everyone has different ideas about who could be making these threats and why but it’s Keisha who does the most to avoid panic. Her sixth sense comes into play and her love for all these people—well, not so much for Miss Cynthia—sees her through to the end.

That end isn’t entirely satisfactory because it’s rushed and a bit out of nowhere but that’s often the case with short stories and novellas, just not enough time to flesh it out properly. This is a story that will introduce or re-introduce readers to Kelly and those in her circle and I hope to see more of these folks soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Waiting On Wednesday (77)

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

Book Review: All Signs Point to Murder by Connie di Marco—and a Giveaway!

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Title: All Signs Point to Murder
Series: A Zodiac Mystery #2
Author: Connie di Marco
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Publication Date: August 8, 2017
Genres: Mystery, Cozy

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Purchase Links:

              

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All Signs Point to Murder
A Zodiac Mystery #2
Connie di Marco
Midnight Ink, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5107-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Rob Ramer was the perfect husband until he committed the ultimate family faux pas — he shot his sister-in-law to death. Believing himself under attack by an intruder in his home, he fired back. But when evidence is discovered that Rob’s wife, Brooke, was plotting his murder, Brooke is charged with conspiracy in her sister’s death. Geneva, a third sister, is desperate for answers and seeks the help of her friend, San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti. Geneva’s lost one sister and now it seems she’ll lose the other. Was this a murder plot or just a terrible accident? Julia vows to find the answer in the stars.

Generally speaking, I like cozies but I find some of them overly simplistic and too often one is just like the next—different occupation but the same romance, the same reasons for sleuthing when the police haven’t even had a chance to do their jobs. Still, they can be a nice change from the grittier, perhaps more violent crime fiction I usually choose.

All Signs Point to Murder is a good blend of types and I appreciate that. The initial crime is interesting because of the circumstances and the people involved and, while I’m not a true believer in astrology, I understand why it appeals to so many and why Geneva turns to Julia for help. Perhaps someone who reads the stars, and does it well, could see possibilities others might not. As it turns out, Julia does begin to discover things that lead to more questions and, eventually, to answers.

While I enjoyed this book, I do think the author missed a golden opportunity. Readers like me who don’t understand much about astrology are potential sponges for learning but there’s very little explanation here, mostly just statements. Because of that, I skimmed a fair amount and gave my attention to solving the puzzle which, by the way, was not all that easy; I figured out the simple who early on but not the broader who or the why so there was plenty for me to think about.

Besides crafting an intriguing cozy with an edge, Ms. di Marco also has a knack for characters and I found I especially liked Cheryl and Gale as well as Julia and won’t mind spending more time with them in the future.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

An Excerpt from All Signs Point to Murder

The building on Guerrero was a once proud Victorian with bow front windows. It had since been broken up into six small units and fallen into disrepair. I drove around the block several times before I managed to find a parking spot a few doors down. The shops on the main street were long closed and the streets deserted. I shivered and let the car heater run another minute to warm up before I left the comfort of my little metal box. There was something about this chore that made my stomach go into knots. Rummaging through a dead woman’s possessions was bad enough, but what if I found something that implicated Moira in a crime? Should I remove it and risk the police finding out?

I climbed out of the car, careful to lock it and approached the long stairway leading to the front door. The wind had died down and now fog danced around the streetlights. It was eerily quiet. No lights shone from any of the windows. I hoped all the residents were safely tucked up in their beds by now. I climbed the cracked granite stairs to the entrance. The weathered door stood ajar, listing slightly on its hinges. I grasped the handle and twisted it, but the lock mechanism was out of commission. Inside, a bare overhead light bulb hung from a chain. It cast a meager glow down the long corridor, cannibalized from a once grand entryway. The hallway smelled of dirty cat litter, moldy vegetables and cigarette smoke. I followed the corridor to the end, and stopped at the last door on the right.

I slipped the key into the lock. It offered no resistance. The door opened immediately. Had it not been locked? I caught a slight scuffling sound and cringed. I hoped no furry long-tailed creatures were waiting inside for me. I reached around the doorway and felt along the wall. My fingers hit the switch. A rusting chandelier with two bulbs missing illuminated the one large room that was both Moira’s living room and bedroom. I tested the key with the door open, locking and then unlocking it. Now I felt the resistance. The door had definitely been unlocked. I stepped inside and shut it behind me, making sure the lock was secure. Was it possible someone had been here before me and left without locking the door? Or had Moira simply been careless?

I had to make sure I was alone in the apartment. There were no hiding places in this sparsely furnished room. I checked under the bed just to be sure and opened the closet, terrified that someone or something might jump out at me. The closet was narrow, filled with a jumble of clothing, half on the floor. I walked into the kitchenette and spotted a doorway that led to the back stairs and the yard. I tested the handle on the door. Locked. I checked the space between the refrigerator and the wall, and then the shower stall in the bathroom. I was alone. I had been holding my breath and finally let it out in a great sigh.

I started with the drawers in the kitchen and checked the counter, looking for any notes with names or phone numbers. There was nothing. The kitchen was surprisingly clean, as if Moira had never used the room. Inside the refrigerator were a few condiments, a half-eaten unwrapped apple and a loaf of whole wheat bread. I quickly rummaged through the drawers and the freezer to make sure there were no bundles of cash disguised as frozen meat.

The main room housed a collection of hand-me-downs and broken furniture, ripped curtains and piles of clothing in various spots around the floor. Had she really lived like this? I heaved up the mattress, first on one side and then the other, making sure nothing was hidden between it and the box spring. Under the bed, I spotted only dust bunnies. I pulled open each of the bureau drawers, checked their contents and pulled them all the way out to make sure nothing was behind them. I opened a small drawer in the bedside stand. Amid a loose pile of clutter was a dark blue velvet box embossed with the letter “R” in cursive gold script. Could this be from Rochecault? I was fairly certain it was. Rochecault is an infamously expensive jeweler on Maiden Lane downtown. How could Moira have shopped there? Was this what Geneva had meant when she said her sister seemed to have a lot of money to spend?

I opened the box and gasped. An amazing bracelet heavy with blue stones in varying colors rested inside. The setting had the slightly matte industrial sheen of platinum. Moira couldn’t possibly have afforded this. Shoving the box into a side pocket of my purse, I decided I was definitely not leaving this for the police to find, and slid the drawer shut.

I scanned the room. Moira hadn’t been much of a housekeeper and it didn’t appear as if there were many hiding spots. I headed for the desk, a rickety affair with two drawers and a monitor on top. I clicked on the hard drive and waited a moment. The monitor came to life and asked for a password. It would take someone much more talented than I to unearth its secrets. Under a jumble of papers and unopened bills, my eye caught a small black notebook. This looked promising. Perhaps it was an address book that would give us all of Moira’s contacts. I dropped my purse on the floor and reached for the book. A searing pain shot through my skull. Blinded, I fell to the floor.

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Excerpt from All Signs Point to Murder by Connie di Marco. Copyright © 2017 by Connie di Marco. Reproduced with permission from Connie di Marco. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Connie di Marco is the author of the Zodiac Mysteries from Midnight Ink, featuring San Francisco astrologer, Julia Bonatti. The first in the series, The Madness of Mercury, was released in June 2016 and the second, All Signs Point to Murder, was released on August 8, 2017.

Writing as Connie Archer, she is also the national bestselling author of the Soup Lover’s Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. Some of her favorite recipes can be found in The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. Connie is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

Catch Up With Connie di Marco:

              

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Follow the tour:

7/23 Guest Post @ CMash Reads
7/23 Review @ Lauras Interests
7/24 Interview @ BooksChatter – GIVEAWAY!
7/24 Showcase @ A Bookworms Journal
7/25 Review @ Booklove
7/25 Showcase @ A Bookworms Journal
7/26 Review @ Socrates Review Blog
7/27 Showcase @ A Bookaholic Swede
7/28 Interview @ Loris Reading Corner
7/28 Review @ Cozy Up With Kathy
7/29 Review @ Cafinated Reads
7/29 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
7/30 Guest post @ Cozy Up With Kathy
7/31 Review @ Hott Books
8/01 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
8/02 Guest post @ Books Direct
8/02 Review @ Cheryls Book Nook
8/03 Review @ A Holland Reads
8/03 Review @ Jane Reads
8/04 Guest post @ Jane Reads
8/04 Interview @ Deal Sharing Aunt
8/05 Showcase @ Bookalicious Traveladdict
8/06 Showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
8/07 Review @ the Blacksheep Reader
8/08 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
8/09 Review @ Book Babble
8/09 Review @ Hezzi-Ds Books and Cooks
8/10 Review @ Puddletown Reviews
8/11 Review @ Carols Notebook
8/12 Review @ Bookishly me
8/13 Showcase @ Suspense Magazine
8/14 Showcase @ Brooke Blogs
8/16 Review @ Buried Under Books – GIVEAWAY
8/17 Showcase @ Sleuth Cafe
8/18 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
8/21 Review @ Melinas Book Blog
8/22 Review @ A Room Without Books is Empty
8/23 Blog Talk Radio w/Fran Lewis
8/23 Review @ Just Reviews

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To enter the drawing for an ebook
copy of All Signs Point to Murder,
leave a comment
below. The winning
name will be drawn
Saturday evening,
August 19th, and the
book will be
sent out after the tour ends.

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Creating Good Storytelling

Barbara DaCosta is author of Mighty Moby and Nighttime Ninja, both illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young and published by Little, Brown. Nighttime Ninja received the Children’s Choice Award. Visit her at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Have you ever stopped to think why you can’t put some books down? Or why you can’t stop listening to your friend telling you the same tale for the umpteenth time?

The secret is in the storytelling. It’s the tone of voice, the anticipation, the pacing. It’s in their utter commitment to the story. A good storyteller, they say, is someone who can read the telephone book to you and make it sound interesting.

Much of this is done through use of various devices: a movie’s suspenseful music or ominous lighting. A cliffhanger at the end of a novel’s chapter. A shoe about to drop, an unanswered question, a ticking clock. But ultimately, it’s about one person speaking to another.

Even in a picture book, a sense of urgency can be created, through the flow of the artwork, the rhythm of the words, the judicious use of page turns, even the use of punctuation! So it’s not enough to have only one element work. It all has to work, and it all has to speak to the reader.

In our book Mighty Moby, we strove to knit pictures and text together to create a sense of anticipation. Based on Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby Dick, we follow Ahab-his obsession dragging whalers and whale into an epic battle-when suddenly-

You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next.

Book Review: Vacation by JC Miller

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Title: Vacation
Author: JC Miller
Narrator: Curt Simmons
Publisher: JC Miller Writer
Publication Date: July 14, 2017

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Purchase Links:

Audible // iBook // Amazon

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Vacation
JC Miller
Narrated by Curt Simmons
JC Miller Writer, July 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

Dr. William Koval, a pragmatist with little faith in humanity, prefers to dwell in the eerily comforting microscopic realm, where he is master of his domain. But his worldview is upended when he decides to go on the English walking tour his wife had been planning before her murder three years earlier. Only when William confronts his past, including his troubled marriage, will he find a way to rejoin the living, to move forward, and perhaps love again. The real journey, he discovers, lies within.

In many ways, William is a stereotypical research physician but those close to him know he isn’t coping well with the death of his wife; rather than moving on with his life, he’s withdrawn and finds comfort in solitude. He would be content, if not happy, to be left alone but, fortunately for him, there are a few people who care enough about his wellbeing to force him to take a step forward.

A walking tour through the English countryside doesn’t seem too onerous at first, even though William isn’t used to this sort of thing or with spending time with a group of strangers, some of whom are intent on being chummy. Their Irish tour guide is a funny sort of guy who’s suspiciously inept at this and a couple of his fellow walkers are a bit irritating. Still, it’s only for a few days and William has to admit he’s feeling a kind of relaxation he didn’t expect. When a woman named Annie begins to touch his heart, he’s unprepared and, at first, resistant and when he does let himself feel again, he and Annie come up against an unbearable barrier.

Vacation is what I call a love story rather than a romance because there’s more depth to the feelings between these two and it seemed quite organic, if you will. The twist in the story bothered me some, first because I thought it was way too predictable but also because it just seems so unnecessary and I think tension could have been created in a less sensational manner. Despite that, I enjoyed this story a great deal.

A lot of my enjoyment came from the wonderful narration by Curt Simmons. I don’t think I’ve heard him before but his voice is one of the best I’ve come across with his smooth, even tones that tell the story with distinct vocalizations and a comfortable quality that makes me want to keep listening. Ms. Miller wrote a really good story; Mr. Simmons brought William and all the other characters to life.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

About the Author

JC (Jeanne) Miller is a freelance essayist, the author of five novels, including  the best-seller, Vacation. An avid reader, aspiring traveler and table tennis enthusiast, JC resides in Northern California.

  • Writer
  • Table tennis enthusiast
  • Lover of silly animal videos

Website // Facebook // Twitter

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About the Narrator

Curt lives in Seattle and produces and narrates audiobooks in his home studio. He began his performing career in college as a stage actor and radio personality. After college, in addition to acting, Curt also did voiceovers for commercials, which he also wrote, directed, and edited for broadcast TV. Following the birth of his daughter in 1984, he left the performing arts to pursue a more “stable” profession managing projects. Then, in 2014 he returned to the professional stage for the first time in over 30 years as Walter Flood in Becky’s New Car by Stephen Dietz. He has also appeared recently as Lyman in Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz and Ralph in The Last Romance by Joseph DiPietro. Vacation is Curt’s eighth audiobook.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Goodreads // SoundCloud

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour:

Aug. 13th:
Lomeraniel (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Giveaway)
CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)

Aug. 14th:
Buried Under Books (Review)
Dab of Darkness (Review, Giveaway)

Aug. 15th:
Jazzy Book Reviews (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Author Interview, Giveaway)

Aug. 16th:
Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)
WTF Are You Reading? (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Giveaway)
The Literary Apothecary (Review)

Aug. 17th:
The Bookworm Lodge (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)

Aug. 18th:
The Book Addict’s Reviews (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Music Playlist)
Bean’s Bookshelf and Coffee Break (Review)

Aug. 19th:
Lynn’s Romance Enthusiasm (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)

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GIVEAWAY

The giveaway is for 2 free audiobooks, winner’s choice.
Open internationally! Runs August 13th – 20th.

Enter here.

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Illusion vs Reality

Dylan Callens lands cleanly. That would be the headline of a newspaper built with an anagram generator. And although Dylan is a Welsh name meaning god or hero of the sea, he is not particularly fond of large bodies of water. His last name, Callens, might be Gaelic. If it is, his last name means rock. Rocks sink in the sea. Interestingly, he is neither Welsh nor Gaelic, but rather, French and German. The inherent contradictions and internal conflict in his life are obvious.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Goodreads

Philosopher Rene Descartes was puzzled by his senses.  He knew that sometimes they deceived him.  At some point, we’ve all been deceived by a sound outside or something that we see out of the corner of our eyes.  Descartes, upon noticing this, raised an important question:  if our senses can deceive us sometimes, how do we know that we aren’t being deceived all the time?

I’ve always been intrigued by the question.  How do we know that what we are seeing is real?  Can we know with absolute certainty that what we see is really there?  When I step outside, I believe that what I see is real.  When I talk to someone, I believe that they are responding to me.  But the only real evidence I can say about this experience is that I think it’s really happening.  I believe that there is a world all around me and I’m not just dreaming this up, or being fed some kind of false information by an evil super-genius.

During his meditations, Descartes comes to a point where he thinks he proves that he exists.  He says that no matter what, he is thinking thoughts.  And since he is thinking, he exists in some way.  Even if those thoughts are false, those thoughts are undoubtedly his.  This is the basis for his famous line, I think, therefore I am.

There is also a widely-known thought experiment by Hilary Putnam called “The Brain in a Vat”.  It goes like this:  Imagine that a mad scientist kidnaps you one night while you are sleeping.  He then takes the brain out of your body and places it in a vat with nutrients that keep your brain alive.  He then hooks up a whole bunch of electrodes from a supercomputer to your brain and provides all the sensory data needed to trick your brain into believing that you are experiencing these things for real.

While the thought experiment seems far-fetched, it does pose an interesting question – if things weren’t real, how would you know?  And even if you were able to recognize the world as not being real, what would it matter?  You would have no way to escape the vat.  Your thoughts and actions would be meaningless vat-thoughts and not be real, anyway.

This question about reality is what drove me to create Carl’s world in Interpretation.  I wondered how we, as humans, could be fed false sensory information without ever being aware of it.  If it was possible, I wondered to what degree we would be ready to accept that reality.  I think it’s even more acceptable if the world that is presented to us feels like utopia.

Carl’s utopia is ripped away and instead of doubting it, he doubts the new, miserable existence that is in front of him.  He is in pain, starvation stalks him, and the world is run down.  He yearns for his past life and wants that to be his reality.  Still, he does find hope wherever he can.  Clinging onto those little pieces of hope drives him forward.  He continues to seek answers, only to find that once again, he has been deceived.

At the heart of this deception, he is questioned by an entity about which world people would prefer to live: one of illusive luxury or one that is real but extremely difficult.  While I would want to believe that I’d choose the real world, regardless of how difficult it might be, I’m not so sure.  Because in the end, aren’t we just choosing to believe that the life we are living is real in the first place?  So, why choose hardship, even if it’s the more “real” option.

In novels, the theme of illusion vs. reality has always been one of my favorites.  As a topic in philosophy, I also enjoy exploring it, too.  That’s one of the many reasons that I chose to write Interpretation.  If nothing else, we should look at what is in front of us and question it.  There is always something hidden in reality that will give it more meaning and it’s up to us to discover and seek our own answers.

An Excerpt from Interpretation

Carl closed his eyes and tried to laugh at himself.  Barely a squeak left his mouth.  What was he thinking, trying to enter this godforsaken wasteland by himself with no supplies?  Still on his back, he dreamed about opening a bottle of Ocean Surge.  Wet bubbles danced against his tongue, bathing his taste buds with refreshing fruit-infusion – small bursts of happiness made his lips sing an ode to joy.

But forget that fantasy; sulfur-ridden tap water would be just as good.  Carl knew the taste would not equate, but its effect would invigorate.  Carl smiled, his eyes wide open, staring into the dimming sky, into the nothingness that surrounded him.  Gulp after glorious gulp of imaginary liquid until he couldn’t keep up, showering his face with it until a puddle formed around him.  That puddle turned into an ocean and Carl sank to the bottom, his faint breath weakening further.  The light grew dimmer.  He tried to reach up, to reach out of the depths of his hallucination, but his arms felt too heavy, as if the pressure at this depth couldn’t be overcome.

A shadow hovered over him.  Carl tried to speak to it, but words didn’t make sense.  The shadow spoke back with a meaningless, muffled slur.  Water entered Carl’s mouth, nearly choking him.  Nonetheless, the delicious wet felt so good, like ocean refreshment in every bottle.  That was the slogan, right?  Carl laughed or cried, he couldn’t tell.  For all he knew, he was dead.  The shadow grew, saying something that he couldn’t work his mind around.  Darker. Darker.  Clock, what the hell was that clock song?  Darker. The shadow drew nearer.  Or maybe it was the darkness.  It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born, And was always his treasure and pride… Ah yes, there it is.  But it stopped short – never to go again – When the old man died.  That’s the one.  Darkness.

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