A Trio of Teeny Reviews @ajhackwith @AceRocBooks @DeanStPress @GrandCentralPub

The Library of the Unwritten
A Novel from Hell’s Library #1
A. J. Hackwith
Ace, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-98480-637-6
Trade Paperback

In a unique way of looking at what Hell must be like, there are books that never got finished, or even started, by their authors and someone—Claire—has to be in charge of those books. Why? Because the characters in those stories can escape and create havoc, of course 😉

When one particular hero goes on the run, looking for his creator, Claire is in hot pursuit along with her assistant and a demon. They all soon discover they’re really on a quest to find a particular powerful artifact, the Devil’s Bible, that Heaven also wants and a fallen angel is determined to redeem himself by recovering. If Claire and her crew don’t find it first, Heaven and Hell are likely to explode into war with Earth caught in the middle.

To put it simply, I loved this book that’s full of adventure, mystery, humor and a wealth of marvelous beings and, when it comes time to re-read it—and I’m very sure I will—I think I’ll try the audiobook for a fresh take.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

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The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye
The Anthony Bathurst Mysteries #3
Brian Flynn
Dean Street Press, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-913054-39-7
Trade Paperback

Gentleman sleuth Anthony Bathurst and Scotland Yard’s Chief Detective-Inspector Richard Bannister work together to discover how three separate cases are indeed not separate but intertwined to a fare thee well. Blackmail, murder, indiscretions, thievery, hidden identities and a “magnificent blue-shaded emerald”…all come together clue by clue in this delightful traditional mystery full of red herrings that had me coming and going, always eager to follow the next lead.

Aficionados of Golden Age mysteries will want to get their hands on this long-forgotten book as soon as possible. You might say it’s criminal that Brian Flynn‘s works fell into a black hole many years ago but, now that new editions of some of his titles are being released, we all have a chance to savor a journey back in time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

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Old Bones
Nora Kelly #1
Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishing, August 2019
ISBN 978-1538747223
Hardcover

We’ve met Nora Kelly before in some of the Pendergast novels and I’ve always liked her so I’m delighted she has her own series now. Along with Nora, we meet another character from the past, Corrie Swanson, who used to be a Goth teen with purple hair and attitude. Her connection to Pendergast when he hired her to drive him around during a case led her to become an FBI agent and she’s still trying to corral her mouthy rebellious streak.

When historian Clive Benton convinces archaeologist Nora Kelly and her employer, the Santa Fe Archaeological Institute, to undertake a search for and excavation of the Lost Camp, an offshoot of the Donner Party’s known snowbound locations, no one expects the FBI to intervene in the dig on site. Agent Corrie Swanson has been investigating the possible ties among a string of grave robberies and a missing person and has, perhaps precipitously, connected them to the dig. Her arrival at the site leads to a shutdown and murders and she and Nora are forced to work together to find the killer(s).

Although the identity of the killer(s) was a bit too predictable, I thoroughly enjoyed Old Bones and relish the promise of more collaborations between Nora and Corrie with a little Pendergast thrown in 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

Book Review: A Baby’s Bones by Rebecca Alexander @RebAlexander1 @TitanBooks

A Baby’s Bones
Sage Westfield Book 1
Rebecca Alexander
Titan Books, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-7856-5621-7
Trade Paperback

Archaeologist Sage Westfield is excavating a sixteenth century well near a listed building, Bramble Cottage, on the Isle of Wight. Expecting to find only some pieces of pottery and maybe some animal bones, she and her two students, Elliott Robinson and Stephanie Beatson, uncover human bones. Two skeletons, that of a woman and an infant, are covered under a pile of rubbish. The bones are at least four hundred years old, and Sage is curious to discover how they ended up in the well. There are tales of witchcraft and a haunted house on the property, and a grave with the inscription “Damozel” hidden in the woods.

While Sage works on the dig, she is also facing problems in her personal life. Six months pregnant, she has recently broken up with her married lover, and is planning to raise the child on her own. Marcus, her lover, has other ideas, and keeps inserting himself into her life. While on the dig, she meets the local vicar, Nick Haydon. and can’t help thinking about him.

Told in alternating chapters—the contemporary story of the dig and the story from the 1500s about Lord Banstock’s daughter Viola’s wedding preparations—this book will appeal to readers of Barbara Mertz, Dana Cameron, and Lyn Hamilton. Alexander has a particularly deft way with description; the vicar is described as “handsome in a 1950s, knitting pattern way.”

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, August 2019.

Review: Bone Box by Jay Amberg

Bone BoxBone Box
Jay Amberg
Amika Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-1-937484-27-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

On a hill overlooking the Aegean Sea in Turkey, an international team of archeologists discovers a stone box that first-century Jews used to rebury their dead. The box’s Aramaic inscription: Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Sophia Altay, the beautiful French-Turkish archeologist who heads the team, tries to keep the discovery secret until she can authenticate the ossuary. She knows that people will kill to obtain the relics—and to suppress the box’s other contents, documents that could alter Western history.

Joseph Travers, an American sent to Turkey to evaluate the archeological dig, soon finds himself pulled into the web of betrayal, reprisal, and violence. In his journey through Istanbul’s mosques and palaces, the archeological sites around ancient Ephesus, and, ultimately, the strange and mystical terrain of Cappadocia, he comes to understand the epochal meaning of the bone box.

To say I’m conflicted about this novel is putting it mildly. There is nothing really wrong with it—in fact, it’s very well written—but it’s not just resonating with me. More on that later.

Joe Travers and Sophia Altay are both appealing characters and she, in particular, is very believable in her role as an archaeologist who has a passion for her work. It’s also apparent that the author has done his research about the profession and that lends validity. Both Joe and Sophia have personal baggage, naturally, but neither is overwhelmed by it and Joe is an especially sympathetic player because of his background. And then there’s a young man named Abrahim who is caught up in things far beyond his control and he is at the core of much of the tale.

The other thing that I really did enjoy is the journey through Turkey, a country that has always fascinated me with its rich past and its modern-day culture. I’ve never had the chance to go there but reading Bone Box gave me a nice taste of this amazing place. In fact, it makes me want to visit even more and I thank Mr. Amberg for that.

So, what didn’t work for me? There are several things but, first and certainly foremost, I really dislike the use of present tense in any crime fiction, especially thrillers. At least this is third person POV rather than first which would have made me DNF. Second, as much as I like Joe Travers, and I truly do, I don’t actually buy the idea that a board member who knows nothing about archaeology would be the one sent to check on the dig and evaluate the project. Whatever the real reasons might be for his having been tapped, his credibility with the dig personnel would certainly be weak at best. And, finally, I think I’ve grown tired of the overabundance of religious-themed thrillers. That’s just me and certainly doesn’t reflect the quality of Bone Box; I recommend it to all readers who like the religious theme but also, like me, appreciate all those attributes of an exciting thriller, things like action, chills, personal connections, worldwide travel and a cracking good mystery.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.

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An Excerpt from Bone Box

Uncovering the Ossuary (from Chapter 2)

The sky is cobalt, but the sun is already low—and little light reaches the trench in which the two men work. The evening air is hot and still as though it has hung there for centuries. Sweat soaks the stout man’s sleeveless T-shirt and mats the gray and white hair on his arms and shoulders. His nose is bulbous above his mustache, the top of his head bald except for long strands of hair hanging limply over his left ear. He grunts as he pushes dirt aside with his trowel. The taller, younger man is more careful, but he, too, breathes hard as he whisks dirt with his brush. The discovery, far more than the exertion, is taking his breath. He is clean-shaven; his features are fine, his black hair thick. Neither man speaks until they have completely uncovered the ancient ossuary, the bone box.

When the stout man stands, his head is still well below the trench line. He stabs the trowel into a pile of dirt, wipes his grimy hands on his pants, pulls up the front of his shirt, and smears the sweat from his face. He picks up an empty plastic water bottle, glares at it, and tosses it next to the trowel. The younger man sets his hands on his hips, catches his breath, and stares at the ossuary. The bone box, a meter long and seventy centimeters wide, seems to glow even in the trench’s shadows. Although he can’t read the words etched into the stone, he recognizes them as Aramaic. The symbols—the equal-armed cross within the circle within the six-pointed star—are familiar, but their juxtaposition is not.

As the call to prayer begins, a cirrus horsetail swirls through the rectangle of sky. The voice barely carries into the trench, but the two men turn and stand still. The heavy man murmurs prayers, and the thin one bows his head in silence, his prayer of a different sort. A prayer of both gratitude and supplication. A prayer that this ossuary is what he yearns for it to be. The cloud’s wispy tail snaps clear.

When the echo of prayer ceases, the stout man squats and digs his fingers under the corners of the bone box.

“Wait!” the young man says in Turkish. “She should be here. We must wait for her.”

Glowering across the box, the stout man grabs the hand-pick he used earlier.

“No!” The young man stoops and presses his palms on the ossuary’s lid. “She must open it.” His face reddens, and his fingers burn as though the ossuary is too sacred, too hallowed, too inviolable, to be touched by humans.

The stout man swings the pick across the young man’s knuckles.

The young man leaps back, his eyes wide. His mouth opens, but words don’t form. Blood beads on the index and middle fingers of his right hand.

The stout man leans over and jams the pick’s tip under the rim of the ossuary’s lid. As he pushes the handle with both hands, getting his weight into it, the lid creaks open. Keeping the pick in place as a wedge, he kneels and runs his stubby fingers under the lid. Stale air rises as he lifts the lid, holds it to his sweating chest, and stares into the box.

Despite himself, despite his stinging fingers and welling tears, the young man steps forward and peers into the box. Making the sign of the cross repeatedly, he takes a series of deep breaths in an unsuccessful attempt to calm himself. Blood trickles down his hand and drops, bright splotches darkening into sandy soil. Blinding sacrosanct light rises from the ossuary, weaving around them and spiraling from the trench. He glances at the stout man who is unable to see the light, runs his hand through his hair, and gazes back into the box. He cannot draw his eyes from the contents, though his pupils might at any second be seared and his skin peel away. The moment is every bit as frightening as it is exhilarating. His blood boils—the Janissary blood, the blood of his lost ancestors, the wanderers and cave dwellers alike. There is much more to this even than he imagined, much more to it than she will at first believe.

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About the Author

Jay AmbergJay Amberg is the author of eleven books. He received a BA from Georgetown University and a PhD from Northwestern University. He has taught high school and college students since 1972.

His latest book, Bone Box, is now available from Amika Press. Amberg has also published Cycle, America’s Fool, Whale Song, and compiled 52 Poems for Men.

Prior to Amika Press, Amberg published thriller novels Doubloon (Forge), Blackbird Singing (Forge) and Deep Gold (Warner Books).

Among his books on teaching are School Smarts and The Study Skills Handbook, published by Good Year. Amberg wrote The Creative Writing Handbook (Good Year) with Mark Henry Larson and Verbal Review and Workbook for the SAT (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) with Robert S Boone.

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Book Review: Isolation by Mary Anna Evans

Isolation EvansIsolation
A Faye Longchamp Mystery #9
Mary Anna Evans
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0402-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Archaeologist Faye Longchamp-Mantooth has dug herself a deep hole and she can’t make her way out of it. As she struggles to recover from a shattering personal loss, she sees that everyone she loves is trying to reach out to her. If only she could reach back. Instead she’s out digging holes all over her home, the Florida island of Joyeuse.

In their old plantation home, Joe Wolf Mantooth is surrounded by family—Faye, the wife he loves; their toddler son he adores; and his father, who hasn’t gotten around to telling him how long he’s been out of prison or how he got there—yet Joe has never felt so helpless or alone.

Then a close friend at the local marina is brutally murdered, the first in a string of crimes against women that rocks Micco County. Joe, desperate to help Faye, realizes she is in danger from both her inner demons and someone who has breached the island’s isolation. Local law and environmental officials say they want to help, but to Faye and Joe they feel more like invaders. A struggling Faye reaches back over a century into her family’s history for clues. And all the while, danger snakes further into their lives, threatening the people they love, their cherished home, even the very ground—some of it poisoned—beneath their feet.

There are some authors I know I can always count on to give me a good story, to take me away for just a few hours from the trials and tribulations of real life. They are the ones I always go back to when I feel the need for some familiarity, sort of like the old friend you haven’t seen in a while but you suddenly have the urge to catch up. Mary Anna Evans is one of those authors for me and, once again, she brought a tale that engaged me from beginning to end.

This time, Faye is keeping to home ground, literally, while she mourns a loss and retreats into herself to try to cope, not always very well. Her digging is aimless although she does have some purpose in mind but her husband, Joe, sees only the reclusive sadness that is tearing her apart. His own grief is more in the background and he has found his own sort of distraction in his father, a man he doesn’t like much. Out of desperation, Joe has been taking his father to the local marina just so he doesn’t have to talk to him and it’s on one of those visits that they find their friend Liz floating in the water.

Then Faye strikes something in one of those endless holes she’s been digging and she and Joe soon find themselves surrounded by environmentalists and a lot of questions, especially since Faye’s grandmother, Cally, might have had something to do with this potential disaster. Before Faye finds the answers she needs, another devastating loss could bring her to her knees.

My affinity with Faye is a little odd because we really have very little in common, only a love of history and my own very fleeting thought, years ago, of becoming an archaeologist. It’s a testament to Ms. Evans’ ability to craft a living, breathing character—and not just Faye—that I feel compelled to keep up with Faye’s life and her ongoing search for her own family history. In Isolation, Ms. Evans created a plot that’s unique and intriguing but it’s the people who continue to call me back. There are no disappointments here except that I have to wait endlessly for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2015.

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An Excerpt from Isolation

Fish know which docks are owned by people who are generous with their table scraps. In the evenings, they gather around wooden posts that vibrate with the footsteps of a human carry- ing food. They wait, knowing that potato peels and pork chop bones will soon rain from the sky. They race to skim the surface for floating bread crumbs. They dive, nibbling at each half-eaten hot dog as it sinks. When a restaurant, even a shabby dive where hungry people clean their plates, throws its detritus off one par- ticular dock every night, fish for miles around know all about it.

On this night, the fish wait below a dock that has always offered a nightly feast. Tonight, they feel the vibrations of familiar feet. The food falls into the water, as always, and the sound of a stainless steel spoon scraping the bottom of a stainless steel pot passes from the air above to the water below. Everything is as it has been, until a sharp noise jabs into the water hard enough for the fish to hear it. The spoon falls.

The spoon is large, designed for a commercial kitchen, so it hits the water with a smack that can be heard both above and below the surface. A scream falls into the fishes’ underworld along with the spoon.

A big pot, with food scraps still clinging to its inner surface, hits the water an instant later. Only creatures with the agility of the waiting fish could scatter quickly enough to avoid being hit.

After another heartbeat, something else falls among them, something bigger and softer. Soon there are two somethings, both with arms and legs and feet and hands, one that gurgles and another that leaves when the gurgling stops.

The thing that stays behind is a human body. As it settles in the water, tiny minnows nestle in the long hair that floats around it like seaweed. Catfish explore its ten long fingers with their tentacled mouths. None of them associate its two bare feet with the sprightly vibrations that had always signaled a rain of food.

Before long, predators appear, drawn by the smell of blood.

Chapter Two

Joe Wolf Mantooth was worried about his wife.

Faye was neglecting their business. She was neglecting her health. He wanted to say she was neglecting her children, but it would kill her to think he believed such a thing, so he spent a lot of time telling that part of himself to be quiet. He also wanted to say she was neglecting him, but it would kill him to believe it, so he spent the rest of his time telling that other part of himself to be quiet. Or to shrivel up and die. Because if he ever lost Faye, that’s what Joe intended to do. Shrivel up and die.

The children seemed oblivious to the changes in their mother.

Michael, at two, saw nothing strange about her leaving the house every morning with her archaeological tools. She had always done that.

Amande was away from home, doing an immersion course in Spanish at a camp situated so high in the Appalachians that she’d asked for heavy sweaters long before Halloween. Faye had been too distracted to put them in the mail. Joe had shopped for them, boxed them up, and sent them off. Faye seemed to have forgotten that her daughter had ever said, “I’m cold.”

Amande was perceptive for seventeen. If she hadn’t noticed that Joe had been doing all the talking for the last month, she would notice soon. Lately, when faced with a call from her daughter, Faye murmured a few distracted words before pretending that Michael needed a diaper change. If Faye didn’t come up with another excuse to get off the phone, Amande might soon call 911 and ask the paramedics to go check out her brother’s chronic diarrhea.

Though Joe did speak to Amande when she called, surely she had noticed by now that he said exactly nothing. What was he going to say?

The closest thing to the truth was “Your mother’s heart fell into a deep hole when she miscarried your baby sister, and I’m starting to worry that we may never see it again,” but Joe was keeping his silence. Faye had forbidden him to tell Amande that there wasn’t going to be a baby sister.

Was this rational? Did Faye think that her daughter was never going to fly home to Florida, bubbling with excitement over her Appalachian adventure and the coming baby?

If she did, it was yet more evidence supporting Joe’s fear that Faye’s mind wasn’t right these days. Every morning brought fresh proof of that not-rightness as she walked away from him…to do what? As best he could tell, she was carefully excavating random sites all over their island. If she’d found anything worth the effort, he sure didn’t know about it.

In the meantime, Joe sat in the house, face-to-face with a serious problem. This problem was almost as tall and broad as Joe. His hair had once been as dark. His skin was the same red- brown, only deeper. This was a problem Joe had been trying to outrun since he was eighteen years old.

His father.

“Try this spot.”

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Faye Longchamp-Mantooth believed in intuition. It had always guided her work as an archaeologist. After she’d gathered facts about a site’s history, inspected the contours of the land, and scoured old photographs, she always checked her gut response before excavating. Her gut was often right. It was only recently, however, that her gut had begun speaking out loud and in English. Lately, her gut had been urging her to skip the boring research and go straight for the digging.

“Have you ever excavated here before?” its voice asked. Faye’s answer was no.

“Then try this spot.”

Every day, Joyeuse Island sported more shallow pits that had yielded nothing. Of course, they had yielded nothing. Faye had failed to do her homework. But going to the library or sitting at her computer would require her to be still and think. Thinking was painful these days, so she skipped it.

“Okay,” she said, not pleased to see that she’d begun answering the voice out loud, “I’ll give it a shot. But I don’t think there’s anything here.”

Her hand was remarkably steady for the hand of a woman who’d been hearing voices for a month. She used it to guide her trowel, removing a thin layer of soil.

She would have known this old trowel in the dark. Her fingers had rubbed the finish off its wooden handle in a pattern that could match no hand but hers. Since God hadn’t seen fit to let her grow the pointy metal hand she needed for her work, she’d chosen this one tool to mold into a part of herself.

Faye was working in sandy soil as familiar as the trowel. It was her own. She’d been uncovering the secrets of Joyeuse Island since she was old enough to walk, and she would never come to the end of them. As she grew older, she saw the need to mete out her time wisely, but she rebelled against it. The past would keep most of its secrets, and this made her angry.Faye didn’t know where to dig, because she didn’t know what she was trying to find. It would help if the voice ever offered a less hazy rationale for ordering her out of the house. All it said was “You can find the truth. Don’t let this island keep its secrets from you.”

Her frenetic busyness was an antidote for the times the voice tiptoed into ground that shook beneath her feet. It crept into dangerous territory and then beckoned her to follow. It asked her to believe that she was to blame for the baby’s death, for the mute suffering in Joe’s eyes, for every tear Michael shed.

This was craziness. Two-year-olds cried several times a day. Men who had lost babies suffered. And there was rarely any blame to be handed out in the wake of a miscarriage, even late miscarriages that carry away a child who has been bumping around in her mother’s womb long enough for mother and daughter to get to know one another.

Still, the voice said Faye was to blame, so she believed it. And it told her that it was possible to dig up peace, so she dug.

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About the Author

Photo credit Randy Batista, Media Image Photography, Gainesville, Florida

Photo credit Randy Batista, Media Image Photography, Gainesville, Florida

Mary Anna Evans is the author of the award-winning Faye Longchamp archaeological mysteries–Artifacts, Relics, Effigies, Findings, Floodgates, Strangers, and Plunder. She has degrees in physics and chemical engineering. Her background includes stints in environmental consulting and university administration, as well as a summer spent working offshore in the oil fields. Writing lets her spend weeks indulging her passion for history, archeology, and architecture, and months making up stories. Mary Anna is preparing to move to Oklahoma since accepting an Associate Professor position with the University of Oklahoma.

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Book Review: In the Woods by Merry Jones

In the Woods Merry JonesIn the Woods
A Harper Jennings Mystery #5
Merry Jones
Severn House, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-7278-8444-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Harper Jennings – mother, Iraqi war vet and archaeology graduate – knows she should be counting her blessings that she’s able to enjoy a child-free camping trip with husband Hank. Hank’s recovery from a brain injury after falling from their roof is nothing short of miraculous. But . . . Harper misses baby Chloe. And she worries that, in being so wrapped up in her toddler, she’s lost her own identity.

But her worries pale into insignificance when she stumbles across a body in the woods. Accident? Harper doesn’t think so, and nor does Ranger Daniels, who seems to blame local militia known as the Hunt Club – who will do anything, it seems, to protect the land they see as their birthright.

Harper wonders what exactly she’s doing, in some dark state forest, tripping over corpses, when she could be at home with her little girl – but when a fellow camper’s husband goes missing, she finds herself reluctantly sucked into the hunt, and into a waking nightmare . . .

What should be a nail-biting tale full of suspense misses the mark a bit although there are qualities about this book that I liked.

To me, it makes no sense that Harper and Hank would go on a camping trip in an area where hunting is a local and tourist pastime. Harper’s PTSD is severe enough that she frequently slides into an episode , triggered by predictable events. Is it any surprise that gunshots and explosions would set her off? Why on earth would she subject herself to the sound of gunshots? Perhaps someday when she’s farther along on her path to healing that might be part of her treatment but now?

The other thing that concerned me is the behavior of one of the possible killers, behavior that can only be termed silly . Yes, a killer of this type is deranged and his…or her…behavior is going to be beyond what the normal human being can fully understand but we don’t generally think of them as silly, do we?

On the positive side, Ms. Jones has created enough scenarios to confuse the reader as well as the good guys. In fact, identifying the good guys is not always an easy thing to do and coming up with motivations that adequately explain things is a little dicey, too, especially regarding a pair of guys named Pete and Bob. Figuring out how the disparate motives and deaths and potential killer(s) all fit together is what kept me reading (although I wondered why the author wanted to hide the identity of the Sector Chief when I spotted him almost immediately).

I have to make a couple of comments about the construction of this book. First, the author knows how to string a sentence together and grammatical/typo errors were infrequent. What I didn’t like was the lack of chapter divisions; a simple paragraph break is just not enough, particularly when the scene is changing. Many times while I was reading, I’d have to stop for a few seconds to get my bearings, so to speak, and that always lessens the tension, not a good thing in a crime novel.

On the whole, while I have some issues with In the Woods, it’s a decent mystery and I certainly don’t regret the time spent.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2015.

Book Review: Uncovering Cobbogoth by Hannah L. Clark

Earlier this month, I was supposed to be a host
for the Uncovering Cobbogoth blog tour but, as
sometimes happens, real life got in the way and
I had to beg off due to illness. Here, then, is my
belated review with apologies to the author,
Hannah L. Clark, and the tour organizer,
Nereyda Gonzalez at YA Bound Book Tours.

 

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Uncovering CobbogothUncovering Cobbogoth
Cobbogoth #1
Hannah L. Clark
Cedar Fort Publishing, May 2014
ISBN 978-1462114269
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Norah Lukens needs to uncover the truth about the fabled lost city of Cobbogoth. After her archaeologist uncle’s murder, Norah is asked to translate his old research journal for evidence and discovers that his murder was a cover-up for something far more sinister.

When she turns to neighbor and only friend James Riley for help, she realizes that not only is their bitter-sweet past haunting her every step, but James is keeping dangerous secrets. Can Norah discover what they are before its too late to share her own.

 

After months away at boarding school, Norah is returning home to her uncle, the only family she has. This is not an easy homecoming though, because of the strain between her and her best friend, James, but even that awkwardness pales when Norah and James find the police at her home. Why would anyone want to kill an archaeologist? Could his government work have something to do with it? And why is the police detective so eager to have her translate a journal written in a secret code without having an official cryptographer look at it?

These are only a few of the questions that arise and it soon becomes very obvious that much more is at stake than just identifying a murderer. Uncle Jack has always been involved with proving the reality of myths and legends and, this time, he may have gone too far. Unfortunately, Norah and James find themselves at the center of a fable gone rather mad. Fantastical creatures that are both awe-inspiring and frightening, loss of memory, powers that Norah never dreamed she had, a crystal city in the caves of Iceland, secrets that have lasted for millenia, all converge to turn this girl’s life topsy-turvy  while she’s on the run from the law and from what may or may not be gods and demons…or perhaps they’re all just hallucinations.

Uncovering Cobbogoth is an intriguing blend of mystery and fantasy with a heavy dose of mythology and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Of particular appeal to me is that the focal point of these myths is Iceland, a country few authors choose as a setting, yet these are not your usual Norse legends. Ms. Clark’s real strength lies in her worldbuilding, down to the details of certain stones and the personalities of the characters both mortal and immortal, and I could envision everything that was happening in Norah’s quest to find the truth. She herself is almost larger than life and I connected with her and with James on several levels.

The pacing of the story is a little slow in the beginning but picks up before too long and, near the end, is close to breakneck. There’s a sort of cliffhanger that isn’t *quite* a cliffhanger as you might expect and the author could easily have a choice facing her; a sequel would fit very nicely but it would also be possible to have the tale end here. After rummaging around on Ms. Clark’s blog, I’m happy to say that she refers to the Cobbogoth series and mentions working on the second book, so I think we’ll be seeing more of Norah. This reader is very happy about that 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2014.

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About the Author

 

Hannah  L. ClarkHannah L. Clark is the author of the YA fantasy-adventure Uncovering Cobbogoth. It is the first book in a planned 7 book series. It was released by Cedar Fort Publishing on May 13, 2014.

Hannah lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with her husband and son.

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Book Review: A Fly Has a Hundred Eyes by Aileen Baron—and a Giveaway

A Fly Has a Hundred EyesA Fly Has a Hundred Eyes
A Lily Sampson Mystery
Aileen Baron
Aileen Baron, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-578-12887-0
Ebook

From the author—

In the summer of 1938, Jerusalem is in chaos and the atmosphere teems with intrigue. Terrorists roam the countryside. The British are losing control of Palestine as Europe nervously teeters on the brink of World War II.

Against this backdrop of international tensions, Lily Sampson, an American graduate student, is involved in a dig—an important excavation directed by the eminent British archaeologist, Geoffrey Eastbourne, who is murdered on his way to the opening of the Rockefeller Museum. Artifacts from the dig are also missing, one of which is a beautiful blue glass amphoriskos (a vial about three and a half inches long) which Lily herself had excavated. Upset by this loss, she searches for the vial—enlisting the help of the military attaché of the American consulate.

But when she contacts the British police, they seem evasive and offputting—unable or unwilling either to find the murderer or to look into the theft of the amphoriskos. Lily realizes that she will get no help from them and sets out on her own to find the vial. When she finds the victim’s journal in her tent, she assumes he had left it for her because he feared for his life.

Lily’s adventurous search for information about the murder and the theft of the amphoriskos lead into a labyrinth of danger and intrigue.

In today’s uneasy world, we’ve become so edgy about the threat of terrorism that we sometimes forget this is not a new thing. Terrorism has been going on as long as humans have been around and no place in the world is as subject to it as the Middle East. Prior to World War II, the trouble between Arabs, Jews and the British grew exponentially, even before the Partition, and the encroaching war helped feed the beast.

It is this environment that is the climate for A Fly Has a Hundred Eyes in which we meet Lily Sampson, a young American archaeologist working on a dig in 1938 Jerusalem. It’s not easy for a woman to work in this profession but Lily has found a place with Geoffrey Eastbourne, the well-known and not always liked head of the excavation. His murder, although shocking, doesn’t seem to attract much attention from the British police but others begin to show much interest in Lily. Some of this interest seems to be concern for her well-being but there are also hints of dark forces, of pressure to spy for the government—or is it for some other element?

Lily is in possession of documents that seem to imply that Eastbourne was involved in much more than an archaeological dig and the behavior and sly warnings of some of the locals, Avi and Jamal in particular, lead her to seek answers on her own. She wants to know what happened to her mentor but a missing artifact also means a great deal to her. Her efforts to get to the bottom of things may  endanger her far more than she expects, especially with the threat of Nazi involvement, but she is also in danger from the ever-increasing bombings and other terrorist acts stemming from the strife among the local populace.

If you think this may be sounding a little familiar, it’s possible you’ve read it before as this is a re-issue of a 2002 novel. Ms. Baron’s story is just as relevant today as it was then and her prose is set apart by her flowing descriptions of the land and its people as well as the time. We would do well to pay attention to what was happening in Jerusalem in 1938 because it surely has bearing on today’s events.

A Fly has a Hundred Eyes won first place in the historical mystery novel category at both the Pikes Peak and Southwest Writers Conferences in 2000 before it was published and those awards were well-deserved. I think I’ll go track down the next Lily Sampson mystery.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2014.

An Excerpt

Later, Lily would remember the early morning quiet, the shuttered shops in the narrow lanes of the Old City. She would remember that few people were in the streets — bearded Hassidim in fur-trimmed hats and prayer shawls over long black cloaks returning from morning prayer at the Wailing Wall; an occasional shopkeeper sweeping worn cobbles still damp with dew.

She would remember the empty bazaar, remember that the peddler who usually sold round Greek bread from his cart near Jaffa Gate was gone.

She would remember the crowd of young Arabs, their heads covered with checkered black and white kefiyas, waiting in the shade of the Grand New Hotel, leaning against the façade, sitting on window ledges near the entrance; remember them crowded under Jaffa Gate in a space barely wide enough to drive through with a cart, standing beneath the medieval arches and crenellated ramparts, faces glum, arms crossed against their chests, rifles slung across their backs, revolvers jammed into their belts. One wore a Bedouin knife, its tin scabbard encrusted with bright bits of broken glass. Only their eyes moved as they watched her pass. Lily remembered holding her breath, pushing her way through, feeling their body heat, snaking this way and that to avoid touching the damp sweat on their clothing. No one stepped out of her way.

She would remember the bright Jerusalem air, fresh with the smell of pines and coffee and the faint tang of sheep from the fields near the city wall; the empty fruit market, usually crowded with loaded camels and donkey carts and turbaned fellahin unloading produce, deserted and silent. Vendor’s stalls, looking like boarded shops on a forlorn winter boardwalk, shut; cabs and carriages gone from the taxi stand.

She would remember the pool at the YMCA, warm as tea and green with algae, and the ladies gliding slowly through the water, wearing shower caps and corsets under their bathing suits, scooping water onto their ample bosoms, gathering to gossip at the shallow end. She would remember swimming around them with steady strokes, her legs kicking rhythmically, and the terrible tempered Mrs. Klein, blowing like a whale, ordering Lily to stop splashing. A tiny lady holding onto the side of the pool and dunking herself up and down like a tea bag nodded in agreement; Elsa Stern, the little round pediatrician with curly gray hair, gave Lily a conspiratorial wink and kept swimming laps.

She would remember it all. Everything about that day would haunt her.

About the Author

Aileen BaronAileen G. Baron has spent her life unearthing the treasures and secrets left behind by previous civilizations. Her pursuit of the ancient has taken her to distant countries—Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Greece, Britain, China and the Yucatan—and to some surprising California destinations, like Newport Beach, California and the Mojave Desert.

She taught for twenty years in the Department of Anthropology at California State University, Fullerton, and has conducted many years of fieldwork in the Middle East, including a year at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem as an NEH scholar and director of the overseas campus of California State Universities at the Hebrew University. She holds degrees from several universities, including the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, Riverside.

The first book in the Lily Sampson series, A FLY HAS A HUNDRED EYES, about the murder of a British archaeologist in 1938 in British mandated Palestine, won first place in the mystery category at both the Pikes Peak Writers conference and the SouthWest Writers Conference. THE TORCH OF TANGIER, the second novel in the Lily Sampson series, takes place in Morocco during WW II, when Lily is recruited into the OSS to work on the preparations for the Allied invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch. In THE SCORPION’S BITE, Lily is doing an archaeological survey of Trans-Jordan for the OSS.

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