Book Review: Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Plum Rains
Andromeda Romano-Lax
Soho Press, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-901-2
Hardcover

Skip forward to 2029. Angelica Navarro is a Filipina nurse who is paying back student loans by working in Japan. Years later, the cost of those loans is about to bury her, as her brother’s debts have been added to her own. He signed on to work in Alaska and became sick from the poison left behind when a plague was eradicated by destroying the land. Angelica is nursing a Japanese woman, Sayoko Itou, who is about to celebrate her one hundredth birthday. When her son gives her a robot for a present, Sayoko and Angelica’s lives both take a drastic shift. As for the robot, the self-learning technology with which he (yes, a he) programs into himself will allow him to become both a friend, and an enemy.

The story is convoluted, the author’s vision of the near future rather terrifying, especially as, in a world that grows more crowded every day, privacy has gone by the wayside. And everything costs. One feels for Angelica, working in a strange country. One feels for Sayoko, too, whose background is tragic. Oddly enough and although neither are aware of it, her story is similar with Angelica’s. And oddly, one feels for the robot, who grows more human in exponential leaps and bounds.

The writing is often lyrical, the characters strong, the dialogue always draws the story forward. I felt a sense of dread as I read it, which certainly proves the writer’s ability to impart emotion into the tale. And I believe the end may surprise you.

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

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Book Review: Return to Dust by Andrew Lanh

Return To Dust
A Rick Van Lam Mystery #2
Andrew Lanh
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0426-5
Hardcover

Billed as a Rick Van Lam Mystery, the novel has more atmosphere and character than one usually expects from a good crime novel. As a consequence, the characters and their backgrounds take up far more space and time than does the careful, sometimes plodding, efforts of the novel’s detective, Rick Van Lam, to answer a rather simple question. Was Marta Kowalski murdered or did she simply slip and fall of a bridge while under the influence?

Rick Van Lam is an Amerasian, a sad by-product of that disastrous war in Viet Nam. Van Lam makes a dangerous trek to America as a young boy. Now he’s a relatively calm and accomplished investigator for a large insurance company. He’s stationed in a bedroom community outside Hartford, Connecticut, where lives a sizeable group of Hmong and other refugees from SE Asia. His relationship to the community is fraught because Lam is not pure blood and many in the small community resent his very existence. That attitude interferes with his investigation. It also offers the author many opportunities to expound on the unique troubles of this group of Asian transfers as they continue to struggle to adapt to their new country.

The woman who died seemed to be an inoffensive sort, semi-retired, she cleaned houses and apartments for a wide assortment of people in the small bedroom community and despite resistance at almost every turn, Investigator Lam persists, wading through thickets of prejudice, suspicion and occasional assistance. Ultimately, of course, he solves the mystery of Marta’s death and in the process, delivers a long and occasionally tortuous dissertation on the outflow of the disaster that was that war in Vietnam.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Anything Could Happen by Will Walton

Anything Could Happen
Will Walton
Scholastic Press, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-70954-5
Hardcover

It’s not every book that can convincingly cast a character with such seemingly unrelated skills. A closet dance fiend who can also (albeit a bit dubiously) aid in delivering a calf. Tretch keeps these truths hidden, right along with another fact he hasn’t figured out how to share.

He appreciates the perks of life in a tiny town while acknowledging the total lack of privacy. Also absent, is the population to properly support a funky, refurbished theatre. So, no matter how cool the 1976 King Kong movie is, Matt and his dads will probably be moving to a city soon. The time to come clean is now. Or never.

And it’s here that I could tell you Anything Could Happen is about absolutely true friendship, the strength and support of family and crushing on the wrong kid. Accurate, yet incomplete. To me, it simply shows how sensitivity is a strength, not a weakness.

Tretch is wise beyond his years, in a unique—not unrealistic—way. His uncanny ability to set his own feelings aside to focus on a friend isn’t instinctive, making it all the more admirable. He is incredibly aware of others’ feelings and hasn’t shared particular pieces of himself solely for the purpose of protecting his friends and family.

“…the insults that somehow fly right past me, but I fear would peg each of them smack in the gut.”

Secrets don’t stay hidden forever and often, they are spilled at once. How they come out matters as much as addressing the information, once it’s laid bare. A lot of pressure for an adolescent and while Tretch may not initially handle it smoothly, once he allows himself to be honest, his sincerity is unquestionable.

This was fun, without being frivolous and is appropriate for the Middle-Grade reader, but (I think) appealing to all.

Oh, and now I know who Ellie Goulding is.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2018.

Just One More Thing—and a Giveaway!

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:

E-Mail: writerlaurencarr@gmail.net
Website: http://mysterylady.net/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lauren.carr.984991
Gnarly’s Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/GnarlyofMacFaradayMysteries
Lovers in Crime Facebook Page:
http://www.facebook.com/LoversInCrimeMysteries?ref=ts&fref=ts
Acorn Book Services Facebook Page:
https://www.facebook.com/AcornBookServices?ref=hl
Twitter: @TheMysteryLadie

If you have nightmares about ending up in someone’s book, then you should know that there are certain things that you should never say to a writer—especially a murder mystery writer.

For example, never ask a mystery writer, “Who taught you how to use commas?” Depending on your tone when you ask that question, your fictional counterpart is bound to end up on the wrong side of a toxic substance.

One of my least favorite phrases is “If you’re ever looking for something to do …”

As the wife to a man who can’t fry an egg (Really! Seriously! The last time he tried to fry an egg I ended up having to feed an entire team of volunteer fire fighters.), mother, church volunteer, and full-time writer, I am never looking for something-to-do. Truthfully, I spend a great deal of my time hiding from Something-to-do.

After twenty years of marriage, I started replying, “Do I look like I’m looking for something to do?” My husband didn’t get the message until I boxed his ears. Then, he slowly backed away and never said that again.

One day, I am going to write a post about what not to say to a writer—unless you want to end up in a book.

This is not that post.

I think most of you are quite familiar with the tendency of adding just one more thing to your to-do-list —usually because you are a nice person. (You have my permission to reach around and pat yourself on the back for being a good person.) Or maybe because that little thing is something that you rather enjoy thinking about doing. It isn’t until it is time to actually get up and do it that it becomes a burden.

The very thought of that Just-One-More-Thing seems quite miniscule while it is a thought inside your head. Then, it ceases being a thought and turns into a reality. Before you know it, Just-One-More-Thing is transformed into a 900-pound gorilla that has decided to sit down right smack in the middle of your to-do-list. That wouldn’t be so bad if it’d move down on your list so that you can put off addressing him until tomorrow like everything else on your list.

But, believe me, 900-pound gorillas are impossible to move.

My latest Just-One-More-Thing started out as one lasagna.

During church a couple of weeks ago, my friend Gail requested food for a reception following a funeral. Instantly, my husband’s eyes lit up and he turned to me. “Lasagna,” he mouthed.

I thought, “Gee, I haven’t made a lasagna in quite a while. It only takes a couple of hours to prepare and assemble a lasagna.” So, I went to Gail and volunteered to make a lasagna for the funeral reception. At which point she handed me a huge pan—big enough for three lasagnas.

Okay, my one lasagna is now three, plus one for my family.

Except, when I make a lasagna, I don’t just make a single lasagna. I make several lasagnas, cook one for dinner, and then pack up and freeze the rest. Then during the upcoming months, when I get busy and don’t feel like cooking, I’ll take one out of the freezer and pop it into the oven.

Last winter, I went through five lasagnas in one month.

I confess, it has been a while since I made my batches of lasagna.

The day after I had volunteered to make the giant lasagna, my husband came home with six foil pans in anticipation of my culinary delight. In one day, my couple of lasagnas had multiplied up to ten. One enormous pasta dish for the church, six to be frozen, and one for dinner.

Just smile. It will only take a few hours, and everyone will be happy afterwards, I kept telling myself. You’re such a good girl. Everyone will love you.

As the day approached, my husband kept requesting a grocery list of what he would need to purchase. Finally, on Saturday, I sat down to count up the lasagna pans and add up the amount of the ingredients. I came up with five boxes of noodles, five huge jars of sauce, a half a ton of Italian sausage, and a ton of various cheeses.

He came back from the store with five boxes of noodles, half a ton of Italian sausage, ground beef, and pork, a ton of various cheeses and one regular size jar of sauce.

“What happened to the sauce?” I asked.

“That’s plenty of sauce,” replied the man who has yet to figure out how to turn on the toaster. “Let’s not go crazy.”

“Dear, you’re a little late to suggest that,” I said. “I’ve volunteered to make an enormous lasagna to feed an army, plus enough lasagna to feed us until the end of the next Ice Age, and you bring me one jar of sauce!”

He handed me the car keys and said that if I needed more sauce, I could go back to the store to get it.

So, I did exactly that. Grumbling the whole way, I drove to the store and bought four huge jars of sauce and a giant cheesecake.

You see, over the years, I’ve learned something about 900-pound gorillas. There’s only one thing you can do when Just-One-More-Thing turns into a nine-hundred-pound gorilla.

Embrace it, feed it plenty of cheesecake, and the two of you will get along just fine.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for both
Geezer Squad ebooks by Lauren Carr,
Ice and Winter Frost,

just leave a comment telling when you
volunteered for that “Just One More Thing…”
that sent you over the edge.
. The

winning name will be drawn on
Monday evening, February 18th.

Book Review: Apocalypse 5 by Stacey Rourke

Apocalypse Five
Stacey Rourke
(Archive of the Fives, #1)
Publication date: February 12th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Good luck and have a pleasant apocalypse.

The end of the world is coming. How or when, scientists can’t agree upon. For decades, Earth’s best line of defense has been a team of young soldiers known as the Apocalypse Five, forced into virtual reality simulations to train for Doom’s Day. But, this is no game. Death on the grid is brutally final and calls up the next in a long line of cadets.

Stationed aboard the AT-1-NS Starship, the A5 are celebrities thrust into the limelight by a calling they didn’t choose. All it takes is one unscheduled mission, showing seventeen-year-old team leader Detroit a harsh and unfathomable reality, to shake the A5’s belief in all they thought they knew. After questioning people with the power to destroy them, the team is framed for a crime they didn’t commit and marked for death. Now, the hunt is on.

Can the Apocalypse Five expose the truth the starship would kill to keep hidden? Or, will their bravery end in a public execution?

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo

My Review

Certainly reminiscent of The Hunger Games, Apocalypse 5 adds a few twists. In the former, society has already suffered the events that led to a dystopian rule and the games are essentially an entertainment and a reminder of who is in charge. In the latter, the events are coming sometime in a nebulous future and the games are intended to defend society.

It’s an interesting premise but is puzzling and part of the story’s development has to do with understanding how it came to this, why death games are required for an essentially unknown danger. Ms. Rourke is an author new to me and I appreciate her storytelling abilities that kept me wanting to read. The characters are fleshed out nicely, although I could do without the ubiquitous romance, and I especially enjoyed the interaction and camaraderie of the team members.

All in all, this book is a good choice for anyone looking for an adventurous story and I’ll be back for the next tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2019.

 

Author Bio:

RONE Award Winner for Best YA Paranormal Work of 2012 for Embrace, a Gryphon Series Novel

Young Adult and Teen Reader voted Author of the Year 2012

Turning Pages Magazine Winner for Best YA book of 2013 & Best Teen Book of 2013

Readers’ Favorite Silver Medal Winner for Crane 2015

Stacey Rourke is the author of the award winning YA Gryphon Series, the chillingly suspenseful Legends Saga, and the romantic comedy Reel Romance Series. She lives in Michigan with her husband, two beautiful daughters, and two giant dogs. She loves to travel, has an unhealthy shoe addiction, and considers herself blessed to make a career out of talking to the imaginary people that live in her head.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

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My Favorite Places

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to share her love for libraries and independent bookstores.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net/

Two of my favorite places are libraries and book stores. I got my first library card when I was in kindergarten. That was a long time ago, but I have never since been without one. I have moved a bunch of times over the years and one of the first things I do when I hit a new town is find the library and get a card. Not to have a book ready at my elbow makes me panic worse than the internet being down. It’s an addiction, one I picked up from my mother and father, neither of whom were ever without a book, one in their hands, another waiting for them to pick up.

The love of book stores came later. There wasn’t a lot of money in our household and the library was free. However, we did have books. Mainly non-fiction or classics, books my mother claimed we would read over and over, but rarely the latest best seller. However, I had books of my own. It was all I ever wanted for Christmas or my birthday, except that one year when I wanted a Brownie uniform. But we didn’t haunt the book stores. That came later.

I can’t remember when I first discovered the pleasure of wandering through a book store. I don’t think we had one in my home town, but if we did, I never went into it that I can remember. It was after I grew up, had children of my own that I discovered the local book store. At first, I was looking at children’s books. When my children had a library book they liked, they didn’t want to take it back. They wanted that story read to them night after night, so I started their small in-home library. As it grew, I added my own books. Then we built a wall of bookshelves in our family room. I didn’t set out to fill it with books, but gradually, maybe not so gradually, it happened. Cook books played a large part in my book buying back then, it was hard to use a recipe that I’d found in a returned library book. I’d made a list of authors I loved while I pursued the library shelves and I started to buy some of their books. Mom was wrong. I did go back and read them again. There were also text books on those shelves. I had married young and had a whole houseful of children but after the second child, I started back at night school. Books I needed for those classes filled the shelves along with the fiction and cookbooks. But the campus bookstore had a poor selection of cook books and children’s literature. Or my beloved mysteries. It didn’t take me long to find a store that did.

Independent book stores, however, were not always easy to find. Back then, there was no Amazon, no internet, no Barnes and Noble, so you had to search out a local store. Some sold used books ( I love the smell of those stores, the dusty shelves, the treasure hunt as you find a book by a favorite author you haven’t read, or have read but don’t own) but it wasn’t until I published my first book that I realized how many small book stores there are scattered around the US. I have been fortunate enough to visit a handful of them. Many are gone now, victims of large box stores and the internet, but many remain. They may have branched out a little, added a coffee bar, some cute cards and puzzles, local jewelry, but books remain their passion. Someone is always available to discuss the newest best seller, or to help you find a treasure you have never heard of.  These shops are tucked away in shopping centers, around the corner from the local café, in an old house on the fringes of town, just about everywhere you can imagine. You will often have to seek them out and they’re worth the effort. You can spend a lovely hour or two, wandering the aisles of these stores, and the books you take home will give you many more hours of pleasure.

I am not going to name any of my favorite stores today, there are a number of them in a lot of different states, but I hope you will share your favorites with the rest of us. Tell us about them, and why you keep going back. I’ll post them in my next blog and I’ll add a few that I love as well.  Let’s keep them alive. They matter.

Spotlight on Any Means Necessary by Jenny Rogneby

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Title: Any Means Necessary
Series: A Leona Lindberg Thriller #2
Author: Jenny Rogneby
Publisher: Other Press
Publication Date: February 12, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Noir, Police Procedural

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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Synopsis

In the highly anticipated sequel to Leona: The Die Is Cast, a
corrupt detective deals with the emotional fallout of her actions
while investigating a terrorist attack in the heart of Stockholm.

After a man blows himself up outside the Parliament House in
Stockholm and miraculously survives, investigations begin to determine
if he was a lone wolf, or were there more heinous acts to follow. Leona
Lindberg, who has barely escaped her trials from the last case, is
focused on her shattered family, lethal personal threats, and desperately
trying to gain liquid assets. It’s lucky then, that she can think outside
the box like no other detective when she’s put on the case. With
one foot on each side of the law, she mounts a special operation
of grand proportions, and the higher the risk, the higher the reward.

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An Excerpt from Any Means Necessary

In my car on the way from Aimi’s office, I turned the call from Alexandra over in my mind. From her tone on the phone, it was clear she had something important to tell me.

Alexandra Risberg was the new superintendent at the Violent Crimes Division. That was still her official title. Next year, the Police Authority was set to undergo its biggest reorganization in fifty years. After that, the divisions would no longer be called divisions and Alexandra’s title would change. Even though she was new in her job, there could be no doubt that she wanted to climb the ladder.

Alexandra had explained to me that the division had been allocated additional funds earmarked for counseling, which she had offered me several times after Benjamin’s death. I had declined every time. When I told her I had decided to see a private therapist, she had been very encouraging and given me permission to go during work hours. Now she had called to ask me to come back as soon as possible, knowing full well where I was.

I turned the police radio off and skipped through the regular channels in an attempt to find something upbeat to help me shake the heavy mood from my therapy session. After browsing through a number of uninspiring talk radio stations, I gave up and listened to the monotone drone of a newscaster:

Today’s headlines. The bomb that exploded outside Parliament last week triggered extensive police action, involving the National Task Force, the National Bomb Protection Unit, and officers from several police forces. Snipers and specially trained negotiators were also called to the scene. A total of two hundred officers were active during the acute phase, which lasted approximately ten hours. The national police commissioner predicts that from now on, Sweden, like other countries, will need to dedicate more significant resources to fighting terrorism . . .

I turned it off. Couldn’t bear to listen. Over the past week, the media had been utterly dominated by the suicide bomber outside Parliament. You couldn’t turn on the TV or radio, browse the Internet, or flip through a newspaper without being bombarded with information about and debates on the subject. Every expert felt compelled to have a theory about it. Even at work, the event was the topic of fervent discussion. People speculated about whether the Security Service really did keep an eye on all potential terrorists in the country, and whether it had been right to heed the recommendation of the National Center for Terrorist Threat Assessment to raise the threat level. I stayed well out of it. The whole thing just made my longing for a different kind of life more urgent.

I didn’t notice the faint smell of smoke in the car until I stopped at a red light on Sveavägen. It didn’t take me long to locate the cigarette butt on the floor next to my feet. I rolled down the window and was about to throw it out when I heard a child crying.

“Mommy, mommy.”

A woman was holding a little boy by the hand, walking so fast down the sidewalk that the boy, shuffling behind, was unable to keep his balance. His legs wouldn’t carry him. His mother pulled and tugged at him. Shouted that they were in a hurry. I rolled the window back up. Felt sick. From the smell of the cigarette. From seeing myself in that woman. My previous life.

The boy was no more than a year or so older than Benjamin. I recognized the stress. If only I hadn’t rushed around like that woman. If only I had had more time with my son.

That life was like a hellish hamster wheel.

People always complained about the everyday niggles, but never spotted the bigger patterns. Maybe they didn’t want to see them. They preferred doubling down and staying in their pointless, regimented, stressful lives to doing something about it. Change was too difficult.

I had had my reasons for living like that. I had done it because I knew society doesn’t accept nonconformity. If you deviate from the cookie-cutter norm, you are left out in the cold. Worthless. From there on out, you’re on your own.

I wondered how long it would take the woman on the sidewalk to realize that fighting so hard to fit in is pointless. That she was part of a competition that has no winners.

Only losers.

She had come to a stop on the sidewalk, bending down and yanking at her son, who was now putting up more determined resistance. He refused to stand up and was crying so loudly I could hear it clearly through my rolled-up window. Maybe the woman would wake up one day. Realize that a single minute with her son was infinitely more precious than whatever she was in a rush to get to.

Excerpted from Any Means Necessary by Jenny Rogneby, published by Other Press on 12 February 2019. Copyright © Jenny Rogneby. Reprinted by permission of Other Press.

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About the Author

Jenny Rogneby was born in Ethiopia, but was given away for adoption when she was one year old. She grew up in northern Sweden, studied criminology at Stockholm University, and became an investigator in the Stockholm City Police Department. Her work inspired her to create the character of Leona. a criminal investigator with a dark past who by her actions challenges the norms of society in many ways, and write the best-selling crime novel, Leona: The Die is Cast. Before her career in law enforcement, Rogneby was a singer and member of the pop group Cosmo4.

Website // Facebook

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 “Leona Lindberg returns to wreak her peculiar havoc. In the second
installment of her adventures, Leona, a detective in the Violent
Crimes Division of the Stockholm Police, continues her pursuit
of a life outside all social conventions…. As a character, Leona
asks a lot of the reader. She is savvy, decisive, and resourceful,
in many ways admirable, but she is also relentlessly selfish,
willing to inflict pain and misery to get what she wants… She
differs from typical noir antiheroes—she’s not a disappointed
idealist but rather an amoral pragmatist. But never mind. This
installment is more completely plotted and more involving…
Leona’s back! Lock the henhouse!” –Kirkus Reviews