Book Reviews: Solving Cadence Moore by Gregory Sterner and 19 Souls by J.D. Allen @SternerGregory @aperturepress @JDAllenBooks @midnightinkbook

Solving Cadence Moore
Gregory Sterner
Aperture Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-9973020-8-0
Trade Paperback

An intense novel fashioned in a very creative and unusual way, Solving Cadence Moore struggles to match its creative vision. It is rooted in the modern radio podcast phenomenon. Charlie Marx, successful radio podcast creator and star has a fine and lasting career in a fairly volatile professional area. He’s progressed through solid talent and the support of a major broadcasting executive, but he wants more. He thinks he’s found a vehicle, a ten-year old mystery.

Young talented and striking-looking (cliché?) Candace Moore is at the beginning of her career as a star vocalist and song creator. When she disappears and no trace has ever been found of her, the mystery endures and grows. Marx believes he can solve the murder and he exaggerates his proof to his boss in order to gain permission to create a star series of podcasts.

Things begin to fall apart when production time is squeezed down and witnesses become reluctant. Marx endures long and tense confrontations with his boss, with members of his production team and with some witnesses he turned up.

The novel, frequently written as a radio script, is long, tedious at times and is shot full of disagreeable language, confrontation after confrontation, and little consideration for the reader. Nine chapters divide a 362-page story. Long involved arguments detailing strengths and weaknesses of character’s positions, often with little or no descriptive language tend to give the narrative a slow and steady progression. Readers will assume, perhaps correctly, that the profession of radio broadcasting, especially when focused on the dramatization of true events, is replete with the kind of competition and repetitive tests of wills fostered by strongly opinionated, testosterone supplied males.

In sum an excellent idea burdened by a limited exposition, resulting in relief that the novel is done, rather than disappointment for the final period.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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19 Souls
A Sin City Investigation #1
J.D. Allen
Midnight Ink Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5403-1
Trade Paperback

An interesting if troublesome book about the search for a deteriorating psychopathic serial killer. The story has several things going for it, an unusual killer, a raft of police and FBI characters, and at least three sort-of-legal private searchers. The least likeable of the three, a shambling, bumbling private investigator named Jim Bean works alone, except when he needs help, which is frequently. The other two, O, a bounty-hunter, and Bean’s obligatory cyber/research expert add a little to the narrative, although O adds the least.

The setup is excellent and would have been even better if Bean wasn’t portrayed as so constantly second-guessing himself. A woman hires him to find her long-lost brother. She promptly drugs and seduces Bean which interferes with Bean’s thoughts and emotions, often at crucial junctures.

The story takes place in Texas, Nevada, California and Indiana. As the target descends gradually, logically, and cleverly into madness, the tension rises and more bodies litter the ground. Largely well-written and edited there are a few point-of-view shifts that are momentarily confusing but taking it all together, the novel is worth its price.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Road to Nowhere by Cy Wyss @CyWyss @partnersincr1me

Road To Nowhere by Cy Wyss Banner

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Road To Nowhere

by Cy Wyss

on Tour September 1-30, 2019

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Road To Nowhere by Cy Wyss

Synopsis:

PJ Taylor, the feline shapeshifter, is back! Someone is kidnapping people’s pet cats and holding them for ransom. When PJ’s beloved niece is catnapped, the trail leads PJ to Nowhere, a tiny hamlet north of her hometown of Mayhap. What intrigues will PJ find among the inhabitants of this minuscule community? You can bet it involves at least one person up to no good and flushing this person out could be…murder!

Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Mystery Published by: Nighttime Dog Press, LLC Publication Date: September 1, 2019 Number of Pages: 222 ASIN: B07WCHL75J Series: Eyeshine, 2 Purchase Links: Amazon, Goodreads

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My Review

For anyone who has read the first book, Eyeshine, fair warning—this volume opens with a major, and appalling, development. About that I’ll say no more.

Road to Nowhere brings us up to date with PJ Taylor’s story, that of a photojournalist who morphs into a cat every night and has figured out how to use that advantageously in her work. This time, prompted by her best friend Clara’s loss, she’s looking into a spate of kitty kidnappings. Quite naturally, the police haven’t been overly interested in these particular crimes but PJ is willing to stake out the ransom drop in hopes of identifying the bad guy(s).

As it turns out, much more is involved here than mere greed and PJ gets a lot of help from Robert and Nanci, her brother and niece, as well as local cop, Jake, and an enigmatic newcomer, Blake. Besides the catnappings, the author touches on the difficulties faced by those who question their sexual identity and takes us to some dark moments while still maintaining the somewhat lighthearted core story. Kudos to the author for offering a nice blend of grit and fun.

Occasional editing errors were not very distracting but I do have to express my disappointment that this is exclusive to Amazon, unlike the first book. I wish that a broader audience could enjoy PJ and her story 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2019.

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Read an excerpt:

Robert Taylor entered the brownstone via the back door, closing it quietly behind himself. He was in a landing of pale green and gray with tan carpet and stairs leading upward and a sandwich board on the wall with office numbers. The woman he was looking for was in 303, two stories above him. He ascended the two flights, his heart leaden with reluctance. He considered himself a unicorn – someone special and rare. Not only was he smart and successful (head of his own one-man FBI office in Mayhap, Indiana), the women in his family had the unusual proclivity to turn into cats when the sun set. This made them particularly effective operatives, although in fearing for their safety he often restricted their usefulness. His sister, PJ, had been his most important informant up until her recent death. He couldn’t believe she was gone. It didn’t seem real. Didn’t cats have nine lives? He somehow expected PJ to rise from her grave and come back to him. Instead, here he was, about to attempt to convince a psychotherapist of his sanity in the face of his recent tragedies. All he wanted was to get back to work. They wouldn’t let him back without the sign-off from this woman, Ms. Julia Herzenberg. Her name conjured images of some ancient Freudian presence, maybe someone who looked like Dear Abby or Ruth Bader-Ginsberg, with copious wrinkles and a severe bun. He shivered at the idea of exposing his inner life to this person. On the third floor, the stairwell opened into a larger space of muted pastels that smelled of rose and mint. Three doors greeted him, and he pushed through the one whose frosted glass proclaimed it 303. Inside, soft new age music played, and the floral scent was stronger. The culprit was an incense burner on a small table near the door. Thin smoke wafted from a glazed, bulbous pot in gray ombre. The walls of the suite were a soothing blue and the furniture worn leather in earthy browns. Striped pillows and throw blankets abounded, and health magazines lined the coffee table. Robert perched on the edge of a fat armchair and crossed his legs, interlacing his fingers around his knee. He waited, with the demeanor of a man about to face something dire and unwanted. His first impression of Julia Herzenberg when she opened the inner door was that she looked nothing like an old psychiatrist or supreme court judge. Her hair flowed around her head in generous curls, spilling from her shoulders in waves of auburn silk. Her eyes were a crystalline green the likes of which he had only seen previously on actresses or fashion models. She was tall and thin, with slender, manicured fingers and long legs beneath a plaid wool skirt. She reminded him of a willow – inscrutable and eternal, with Nature’s grace and strength. “Robert Taylor?” she asked. It took him a moment to shut his flapping mouth and recover his aplomb. “Yes,” he finally said, extending his hand. She shook it firmly, her hand warm and dry. She led him into a brown hallway, and to an office at one end. The room contained the same homey furniture as the waiting area, in neutral shades of soft leather with woven and plush accompaniments. “Have a seat,” she said. He stared at the wide couch before him. “Do I need to lie down?” he asked. “Only if you want to,” she said. She sat in an armchair across from the couch with her knees pressed together and her hands folded in her lap. She studied him, an entirely unassuming expression on her porcelain face. Awkwardly, he perched on the edge of the couch and rested his weight on his elbows on his thighs. He let his hands dangle. She remained still and silent as he took in his surroundings. The paintings on the walls were interesting but not distracting and consisted of abstractions that reminded him of natural surroundings. The lights were incandescent, and the shades partially drawn, rendering the space as comforting as a forest nook where sunlight filtered through the branches above. Dr. Herzenberg even had a small fountain on one side table and the faint sound of running water complemented the illusion. Robert could feel his tension recede, despite his natural wariness and dark mood. Still, she said nothing. Robert felt her watching him and found he couldn’t meet her gaze directly. Rather, his eyes roved over their environment, never settling for more than a few seconds. Behind and beside her was a narrow bookcase with glass panels and something about it bothered him. He kept returning to it, until he realized why. On the very top of the bookcase was an old-fashioned globe and a statue that looked like a very realistic black cat. It could have been PJ. He stared at the cat, and almost jumped out of his seat when the statue blinked. “God, that’s a cat!” he said. Dr. Herzenberg smiled. “That’s Bella.” “Wow,” Robert said. “I thought she was a statue.” “She likes to sit up there,” Dr. Herzenberg said. “Many of my patients don’t ever notice her.” “I’m amazed. You bring your cat with you to the office?” Dr. Herzenberg shrugged. “She doesn’t like to be alone.” “You could get her a companion.” “She doesn’t like other cats.” Robert chuckled. “Typical difficult feline.” “Tell me,” Dr. Herzenberg said. “Are you a cat person?” He remembered his sister, and the fact he’d never see her again. His eyes burned, though he willed himself not to tear up. “You could say that,” he said. PJ had turned into a cat every night since shortly after she had hit puberty. He still remembered the first time she’d shapeshifted. He was a rookie cop at the time and looking after her since their parents had died, as her much older brother and legal guardian. They’d been playing video games on the couch when she howled and writhed in pain. He had thought she was dying and called 911. Imagine his chagrin when they arrived and found no sign of the girl that he’d insisted needed an ambulance. Instead, a black tabby cat watched him explain that he’d had a nightmare and called emergency services by mistake. His colleagues ribbed him for weeks afterward. Robert was so traumatized, he confined PJ to her room after sundown from that time forward, and he somehow managed to convince himself her transition hadn’t happened. It was only recently, with his own daughter, Nancy, entering puberty, that he’d finally opened up to PJ about her wonderous ability. He had been terrified that Nancy would become a shapeshifter as well. Be the status of that as it may, at least one outcome had been that he had become significantly closer to PJ, a relationship long overdue. His memories of PJ ran through his mind, and guilt stabbed his heart. If only he hadn’t been so pigheaded, he could have showed his love for her sooner. He could have had years of closeness instead of mere months. They could even, perhaps, have– No. He wouldn’t let himself think about that. Regret was a demon that ate you alive. It was what it was. He couldn’t change the past any more than he could draw castles in the sky. “What are you thinking about?” Dr. Herzenberg asked. Robert blinked several times, his reverie broken. “Nothing,” he said. She stared at him. His gaze dropped to the coffee table between them. “I was thinking of my sister,” he said. “Tell me about her.” Robert took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He crossed his arms over his chest and studied the carpet under their feet, a confetti-patterned collage of woodland hues. He found himself telling Dr. Herzenberg the truth – something he hadn’t done in decades. “She’s not actually my sister,” he said. “Oh?” She raised a delicate eyebrow. “Well, she wasn’t, I mean,” he said. “My father was her mother’s cousin.” Dr. Herzenberg appeared lost in thought for a moment. “So, your ‘sister’ was actually your second cousin?” “Yes,” Robert said. “Why do you call her your sister?” “Our parents married,” Robert said. “Legally, PJ was my sister.” “I see,” she said. Another wave of regret washed over Robert. He clasped his hands together and hung his head so she wouldn’t see the sheen of tears in his eyes. “I did read your employment record,” Dr. Herzenberg said. “You’ve had quite the last couple of weeks.” Robert snorted. “Yeah. You could say that.” “You failed the bureau’s lie detector test, separated from your wife, shot and killed a man, and your sister – your second-cousin, I mean – died. I’d say all of that qualifies you for a little paid leave.” Then there was the business with his daughter, which he couldn’t talk about, as well as the thing concerning his infidelity, which he likewise couldn’t bring himself to talk about. His shoulders drooped. “I don’t want paid leave,” he said. “I want to get back to work. All I do is sit around and mope. If I can work, I’ll feel better.” He looked up, into her concerned face. “What can I do to convince you I’m fit for returning to work – that, in fact, it’ll help me recover?” She tilted her head and scrutinized him. He fidgeted under the weight of those amazing green eyes. “You can’t run from your grief, Robert. Turning your attention elsewhere will only cause it to fester and grow into something uncontrolled.” He sighed. “I was afraid you’d say that.” On top of the bookcase, the cat stood and stretched elegantly, her back a deeply curved S. She sat on her haunches and used her paw to clean her snout. Robert watched, fascinated. “Tell me more about your sister,” Dr. Herzenberg said. Another wave of regret reminded Robert of his failures, and, with it, a twinge of fear piqued his soul. He’d already said too much. “You were close, I take it,” the psychiatrist said. “Yeah,” Robert said. Dr. Herzenberg waited. Robert looked around the room again, his gaze settling on the quarter-height of window, through which a gray fall sky was visible. “What bothers you most about her death?” she asked. Robert’s eyes lost their focus as his attention turned inward. Guilt weighed heavy in his heart as he remembered the past two weeks and his role in the whole mess. “I never…” He couldn’t bring himself to say it. Dr. Herzenberg perked up. “You never what?” He stared at the cat, who stared back unblinkingly. The odd sense of unreality overtook him again and he found himself speaking the truth once more. “I never told her how much I loved her,” he said. “I’m sure she knew,” Dr. Herzenberg said. Robert shook his head. “No. She didn’t.” “What makes you think that?” “I pushed her away. She wanted more from me. I should have given it to her.” Dr. Herzenberg’s brow furrowed and her eyes darkened. “What are we talking about, Robert? You’ve told me she wasn’t your blood sister. How did you see her? As your little sister? Or, as something more than that?” Robert ground his teeth. How did they get onto this topic? He was here to get back to work, not to get himself fired for inappropriate feelings toward PJ. “I shouldn’t have said it that way,” he said. “Of course, I meant it platonically.” She studied him. “You know that everything you tell me is confidential.” He frowned. “I know you have to report what I say to my superiors,” he said. “No,” she said. “I have to report my overall opinions. Your disclosures are entirely between us alone.” Robert stared up at Bella, whose golden gaze had never seemed to leave him. He was pretty sure the cat saw right through him, and he wondered how much of that ability Dr. Herzenberg had. He said nothing. *** Excerpt from Road To Nowhere by Cy Wyss. Copyright 2019 by Cy Wyss. Reproduced with permission from Cy Wyss. All rights reserved.    

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Author Bio:

Cy Wyss Cy Wyss is a writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. They have a Ph.D. in computer science and their day job involves wrangling and analyzing genetic data. Cy is the author of three full-length novels as well as a collection of short stories and the owner and chief editor of Nighttime Dog Press, LLC.

Before studying computer science, Cy obtained their undergraduate degree in mathematics and English literature as well as masters-level degrees in philosophy and artificial intelligence. They studied overseas for three years in the UK, although they never managed to develop a British accent.

Cy currently resides in Indianapolis with their spouse, daughter, and two obstreperous but lovable felines. In addition to writing, they enjoy reading, cooking, and walking 5k races to benefit charity.

Catch Up With Cy Wyss On:
cywyss.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

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Book Review: Deadly Dog Days by Jamie M. Blair

Deadly Dog Days
A Dog Days Mystery #1
Jamie M. Blair
Midnight Ink, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-5018-7
Trade Paperback

Start with a soon to be forty woman who feels like a fish out of water. Meet Cameron Cripps-Hayman, currently living in Metamora, Indiana and wondering what happened to her life. She is currently estranged from her husband, Ben, grew up here and convinced her to move when he took the job as town sheriff. Between his arrogant and opinionated, (did I mention, she was also snooty and greedy as well), mother’s coldness and Ben’s working all sorts of hours, the marriage started to unravel and they have been separated for the past six months.

Cameron is feeding a flock of ducks while mulling over her lot, as well as the sad state of things in town when she realizes there’s a hand sticking out of the water on the opposite bank. She can tell by the slender fingers that the deceased is female and notices a red something wrapped around the corpse’s wrist. What Cameron will quickly learn is that the victim is Jenn Berg, a young woman who was not only starring in the play everyone hoped would bring tourists and begin the revitalization process, but who was pregnant and rumored to be dating Ben.

What follows includes Cameron becoming a suspect in the eyes of some community members, her assuming responsibility for Jenn’s four unruly dogs, her mother-in-law trying to steal everything of value from the home she gave Ben and Cameron, plus the added chaos created by the five volunteers Cameron is supervising. Their original mission was to sell tickets to the play through a phone bank in the church basement, but that goes south when the play is canceled and the phone bank is asked to leave because of Cameron’s supposedly being a suspect.

While there is a murder to be solved, it often takes a back seat to the antics of the phone bank folks who decide they all want to play detective. One is a kleptomaniac who spends more time knitting than calling, another is a drunk, yet another is doing community service for an unspecified assault, and the other two are nerdy high school kids. At other times, the drama between Cameron and Ben takes center stage. Then there are other townspeople who share the suspicion spotlight at various times, the bartender who was involved with the victim as well as her younger sister, a shopkeeper with dementia, an elderly philosopher who is constantly dowsing, an aspiring film maker and a wealthy eccentric who lives in a castle take center stage, plus the surly kennel owner who Jenn owed money to for a fifth dog. Add in a scheme to thwart the mother-in-law by painting the house in violation of a town ordinance, another dead body and a promising home-made dog treat business, not to mention the antics of Ben’s fifteen year old daughter Mia who knows how to play Ben against Cameron and you have a delightfully chaotic murder mystery. Cozy lovers will find this a delight.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, April 2019.

Book Review: Tornado Weather by Deborah E. Kennedy

Tornado Weather
Deborah E. Kennedy
Flatiron Books, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-07957-2
Hardcover

A wonderfully complex, startling, complicated debut novel that examines a small town and its inhabitants from a variety of viewpoints. A child named Daisy goes missing and the event shakes up the people who live and interact in the community. Their collective loss of this handicapped little girl are played out in myriad manifestations over months and years. The scenario allows the author to walk unseen and unknown among a racially and economically diverse population, observing and commenting on the individual and the collective.

Tornado Weather is not your typical mystery, nor does it fit comfortably into any of the usual crime fiction categories. It is an extensive and lengthy character study of a small town in Indiana. There are so many characters, one could read the story twice in short order and thus discover more surprises about characters one had thought were fully revealed.

The characters range from venal to exalted, from truthful and forgiving to criminal and nasty, exactly what one might expect to find in any middle-class community. Their actions likewise range from pure to the nastiest, racially biased criminal one might expect.

The story moves deliberately through the dining rooms and bedrooms and businesses of the residents, all affected in ways large and small by the sudden disappearance of Daisy Gonzales. Finally, of course, the mystery is solved and readers will have to decide whether the solution to this intense novel’s mystery is worth the ride. To most, I suspect, the answer will be  yes.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 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: The Boy Is Back by Meg Cabot—and a Giveaway!

the-boy-is-backThe Boy Is Back
The Boy Series #4
Meg Cabot
William Morrow, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-249077-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Reed Stewart thought he’d left all his small town troubles—including a broken heart—behind when he ditched tiny Bloomville, Indiana, ten years ago to become rich and famous on the professional golf circuit.  Then one tiny post on the Internet causes all of those troubles to return . . . with a vengeance.

Becky Flowers has worked hard to build her successful senior relocation business, but she’s worked even harder to forget Reed Stewart ever existed. She has absolutely no intention of seeing him when he returns—until his family hires her to save his parents.

Now Reed and Becky can’t avoid one another—or the memories of that one fateful night.  And soon everything they thought they knew about themselves (and each other) has been turned upside down, and they—and the entire town of Bloomville—might never be the same, all because The Boy Is Back.

Meg Cabot is probably the best-known and most prolific young adult and tween author around and she has truly earned her popularity with such books as The Princess Diaries. In fact, anyone who hasn’t at least heard of that book or the movie adaptation has most likely been living under a rock. Ms. Cabot has also written a number of adult books, mostly romances, and The Boy series falls into that category. Technically, those four books aren’t really a series since each one has different characters but the overall theme ties them together.

The Boy Is Back is the first one I’ve tried—I don’t read much romance but I’ve always liked Ms. Cabot’s other work—and I certainly didn’t feel any lack because I hadn’t read the first three. Reed and Becky are quite normal people coping with real-life issues the best they can while trying to ignore the connection they had in the past. This, of course, is a common trope in romances with contemporary settings and I felt that what elevated this particular one a bit above the pack is the style in which it’s written, presenting the tale through texts, emails, journal entries, etc. For me, this gave it a fresh, light feeling and made everything move quickly which I appreciated.

On the whole, I’m still not a convert to the romance side  😉 but Ms. Cabot gave me a few hours of chick-lit pleasure. I don’t know that I’ll go back to read the earlier Boy books but I definitely have a fondness for this author and will continue to follow her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2016.

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Purchase Links:

HarperCollins // Barnes & Noble // iBooks

Amazon // Indiebound   

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About the Author

Meg Cabot was born in Bloomington, Indiana. In addition to her award-winning adult contemporary fiction, she is the author of bestselling young adult fiction, including The Princess Diaries and the Mediator series. More than twenty-five million copies of her novels for children and adults have sold worldwide. Meg lives in Key West, Florida, with her husband.

Find out more about Meg at her website, follow her blog, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Book Review: Eyeshine by Cy Wyss —and a Giveaway!

EyeshineEyeshine
Murder in Stoker Hills
Cy Wyss
Nighttime Dog Press, November 2015
ISBN 978-0996546522
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

PJ Taylor is a reporter with a difference: she turns into a cat from sundown to sunup every night. In this first adventure, follow PJ as she chases thieves, drug dealers, and even a murderer. Can PJ solve the mysterious drowning death of cantankerous old coot Chip Greene? Or will a local special needs boy end up taking the blame? Be prepared for twists and turns along the way as PJ applies all her feline senses to this diabolical situation.

Something struck me almost right away when I started reading Eyeshine, something important (at least to my mind) and that was its sense of normalcy. Think about it—most cozies involving cats practically drip with cuteness and shapeshifter stories involving domestic cats (the big guys are totally different) fall into the same pit of syrup. Now, you might think I don’t like such things based on the above comments but that’s not really true. I do like them, quite a lot, but they just can’t help being cute and there comes a point when I’ve had all the cute I can take so I go looking for the most gruesome serial killer book I can find.

The difference here is that from the opening paragraphs I felt like PJ’s transformation into kittyhood every night is very matter of fact. There’s no woowoo about it and nothing magical is going on other than the actual transformations; PJ simply accepts her condition and makes the most of it in her career as a journalist. The only person who knows about her shifting is her FBI agent brother, Robert, and he decided almost right off the bat that it just isn’t so because it can’t be so. I love Robert because he cares so much about his sister but, being a very logical person, he’s found a way to live with the thing that doesn’t exist wink wink.

Anyway, I found this everyday situation so refreshing and it set the tone for a mystery that’s pretty lightweight but has characters that are drawn so well I could see myself having coffee dates with them. PJ is a cool young woman who has a bit of money but chooses to live among what others might consider the hoi polloi. She’s figured a way to turn herself into a feline reporter and has come up with ingenious ways to keep her secret from her good friends like cat rescuer/librarian/gossip Clara Goodwind and Vicky Donnerweise who’s a deputy and wife of the sheriff. These two women are delightful sidekicks and they alone could have sold me on the book.

When PJ, in cat form, witnesses two people fall into a rain-swollen creek one night and one later turns up dead, her reporter instincts kick in but so does her urge to get to the truth, especially since she can’t tell everything she saw because, after all, she’s trained everyone to think she doesn’t go out at night because of a fear of the dark. Her main ally in her sleuthing is her dog, Mutt, a loveable if not overly smart Saint Bernard mix, and it’s a lot of fun to watch these two go about their business.

I could go on but I won’t because I don’t want to tell too much. Suffice it to say there’s lots of gentle humor (no slapstick), a decent if uninspiring mystery and loads of characters I want in my life. It’s also very nicely written with too few production or grammatical errors to mention, something that means a lot to me. I really hope Ms. Wyss will be bringing us many more adventures with PJ and company. Eyeshine will be going on my list of favorite books read in 2016.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

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An Excerpt from Eyeshine

People called Brooke Annabeth Taylor “PJ,” which stood not for pajamas but for Peeping Jane. She’d been a photographer and reporter for as long as the town could remember—at least since grade school—and her reportage was known for the most candid and impossible photos, like Peter Parker’s but from nearer the ground. Her job was made more difficult by her moniker because once people found out what it was, they shied away and wouldn’t tell her the secrets that are a reporter’s stock-in-trade. As she got older, it got harder and harder to convince anyone to give her a story. Now, at thirty, she was no longer “kitten cute” and able to wile her way easily into subjects’ confidence. Still, she managed to find a way.

With her penetrating amber eyes and easy smile, people found her disarming. She loved her relationship as a freelance reporter with the town’s paper, and all the vagaries that life entails, such as being a night owl and an absolute bulldog for the truth. If she could have chosen her own moniker, it would have likely combined these: Owl Dog. It was particularly inappropriate, however, because she turned not into a bird or canine every night, but into a cat.

She had been a black tabby from sundown to sunup since shortly after puberty. She often wondered why other people didn’t morph into alternate beings for the dark hours, but was admonished very early on by a loving mother to never, never, ever speak a word of it to anyone. PJ liked to think that was because her mother had a similar power and had suffered, but it could have been due solely to the woman’s intelligence and sense of practicality.

PJ’s father had died when she was ten. The man was a scientist, an absent-minded chemist, and PJ was of two minds about his awareness. On the one hand, his cleverness meant surely he wouldn’t have been fooled by a mere wife, no matter how adept at deception; on the other hand, his absentmindedness meant sometimes he forgot to wear shoes. So it wasn’t a stretch to think he might have no inkling about the bizarreness of his wife or daughter.

At sixteen, with PJ in limbo between childhood and womanhood, her mother suffered a tragic and debilitating stroke that took her life within months. PJ then moved in with her much older brother and his family. By then, she had become as adept as her mother at hiding her talent, in spite of the fact her brother was an FBI agent by that time, at twenty-nine, and extraordinarily difficult to deceive. It helped that after he witnessed firsthand the transformation from girl to cat, he immediately went into a long-lasting shock that consisted of utter denial. Instead of considering how her unique power could assist him in his life of crime fighting, he grounded her for a month and kept her largely confined to her room, especially after sundown.

PJ forgave Robert for locking her up, only because of her natural optimism and sense of personal grandeur. Honestly, grudges were beneath her, as were most things mere mono-modal humans did. She focused on her schoolwork and got all A’s that semester. Much later she discovered her brother had to take a polygraph test every year he was employed with the all-knowing government agency. PJ realized Robert had so thoroughly put the image of his sister becoming a black tabby cat out of his mind that he had convinced himself it wasn’t even a hallucination—it simply hadn’t existed at all. There’s no need to lie if you’re a true believer, and that was the most effective path for a forced deceiver. So PJ kept her secret, and Robert kept his job.

Fourteen years later, PJ was irrevocably known as Peeping Jane and Robert had traveled the country and come back in his forties to set up a one-man field office in Mayhap, Indiana. One day, PJ was out with her best friends Clara Goodwind and Vicky Donnerweise at the Mayhap Spring Festival when the sun dipped low on the horizon, threatening to bring the stars closer and the day to an end.

“PJ, why do you always leave just when things are getting interesting?” Clara said.

She was a buxom woman with big hazel eyes and bright red hair. Her wardrobe favored items with cats in evidence or implied by pithy sayings, such as “Meow Happens,” which her pink tube top currently sported. The woman was Taft County’s prime cat rescuer, with a warren of dedicated chicken-wire pens covering her backyard and a full-time feeding schedule. When she wasn’t volunteering at the county’s humane shelter, she was ensconced in a network of gossips centered at the Mayhap Memorial Library. Clara was an assistant librarian but party to all the good stories the town could provide. PJ found her an invaluable source. If it happened, or was going to happen, Clara knew about it and would talk.

Vicky stood with arms akimbo and watched PJ inhale an elephant ear. She was a striking woman with hair even blacker than PJ’s and blue eyes where PJ’s were yellow. Vicky was tall and muscular, like a man, but lither and hourglass-shaped inside the bulky kit she wore for law enforcement. She was one of Taft County’s deputies, second in their force only to Sheriff Curtis Denning, whom she happened to be married to.

“Land’s sake, PJ, how do you eat like that? You know I’m active all day, but I can’t eat three of those things without being ten pounds fatter tomorrow. Do you just stay up all night on the treadmill or what?”

A loud cry of enjoyment crescendoed from the fairway before PJ could answer, which was just as well since her mouth was filled with fried dough and she wouldn’t have gotten more than a grunt or two out. She didn’t have the heart to enlighten her friend. Every night, indeed, she ran the treadmill of being feline. She wandered miles in the summertime, searched every nook and cranny of the county, chased rodents and vermin, and napped only fitfully and with one eye open under the shifting moon.

She popped the last of the ear into her mouth and said, “It’s genetics. Some people are luckier than others.”

Vicky and Clara groaned.

Clara adjusted her pink-rimmed glasses and slurped her sno-cone. “At least I managed to keep myself to just one Devil Dog. And sno-cones have no calories after noon—everyone knows that.” Clara was constantly watching her figure, which didn’t seem to keep her from growing more buxom by the year. At the rate she was going, she would be a round octogenarian with a radiant smile in fifty years. PJ thought things could be worse.

“So you two coming two weeks from today or what?” Vicky said.

She was having a cookout, a common occurrence in the warmer months, and the Taylors and Goodwinds were regular fixtures. Everyone knew the cookouts were as much a bid to stuff the people of Taft County with reasons why the Denning clan should hold on to the sheriff-hood for the indefinite future, but everyone came anyway. Vicky’s ribs were legendary, and Curtis’s beer was as tasty and free flowing as anyone’s ever was. Today was Saturday, and two weeks from today was going to be the first big Donnerweise-Denning BBQ of the season.

“Yeah, I’ll be there,” PJ said. “At least until sunset.”

Vicky rolled her eyes. “Because you turn into a pumpkin at sunset, right? We’ll never get to see nighttime you. Isn’t Doc Fred helping you with that?”

Doctor Fred Norton was Mayhap’s most celebrated, and only, psychiatrist. Apparently he was a third cousin twice removed to the iconic Oprah Winfrey and had once listened to her problems with aplomb, inspiring her to go on and listen eternally to others. He was given a brief mention in a book of hers, which was now out-of-print. For Mayhap, that was all it took to secure one’s place in the annals of town history. He even had a special shelf in the library to display his pamphlets on the pluses of positive putation, despite the brochures containing more than their fair share of buzz non-words.

PJ’s cover story for disappearing every evening, no matter the weather or event, was a rare and debilitating overreaction to darkness. Everyone thought she ran home to sit in a bright room under full-spectrum lights so she could make it through the dark hours with her psyche intact, her odd and entrenched phobia notwithstanding. Doc Fred made a perfect corroborator. His acute sense of professional delicacy meant he could never confirm nor deny PJ’s hints that he was treating her without success for her illness. Perhaps he had spent the last decades sketching her case study, which would no doubt be picked up by the professional societies should it ever come to a positive conclusion.

“Sorry,” PJ said to Vicky, “I’m not going to talk about it.”

“Oh, right. Shrink’s privilege and all that.”

“Well, get going,” Clara said. “I don’t want to have to carry around any pumpkins your size after dark, if you turn into one.”

“Alrighty. Toodles, people.”

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About the Author

Cy WyssI live and write in the Indianapolis area. After earning a PhD in Computer Science in 2002 and teaching and researching for seven years, I’ve returned to the childhood dream of becoming an author. I better do it now because I won’t get a third life.

Behind me, I have a ton of academic experience and have written about twenty extremely boring papers on query languages and such, for example this one in the ACM Transactions on Databases. (That’s a mouthful.)

Now, I write in the mystery/thriller/suspense genres and sometimes science fiction. I know for some people databases would be the more beloved of the options, but for me, I finally realized that my heart wasn’t in it. So I took up a second life, as a self-published fiction author.

Online, I do the Writer Cy cartoon series about the (mis)adventures of researching, writing, and self-publishing in today’s shifting climate. I also love to design and create my own covers using GIMP.

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Book Review: Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day—and a Giveaway!

Little Pretty ThingsLittle Pretty Things
Lori Rader-Day
Seventh Street Books, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-63388-004-7
Trade Paperback

You probably know a place like the Mid-Night Inn. It’s got twenty rooms, only twelve of them are habitable. Seedy looking Billy, the manager, lives on the premises. There’s a bar, no pool, and no continental breakfast. The customers are two types—the bargains and the desperates. Juliet Townsend makes the beds at the motel, after the bargain seeking travelers have scurried away. After high school, she went away to college for one semester, eager to escape her dead end life in Midway, Indiana. She had to come home to take care of her mother, and she remained cleaning toilets years later, not able to muster the will to break out of her rut.

When Juliet saw gorgeous Madeleine Bell at the front desk, wanting a room for the night, she thought she was hallucinating. Maddy had been the golden girl of high school, the track star, and Juliet’s good friend. Was Maddy in town for their tenth reunion? Maddy says she’s in town for business, but wanted to see Juliet. Odd, thinks, Juliet, since we haven’t spoken since that last track meet our senior year. They wander over to the bar, and Maddy makes vague small talk for a while. The next morning Maddy is found hanging from the motel’s balcony railing.

Did Maddy take her own life or was she murdered? Juliet can only remember all the track meets in school, where she was always second to Maddy’s first. If it hadn’t been for Maddy, Juliet might have won a track scholarship and left Midway for good. The author skillfully weaves the memories of the high school days into the present day mystery. It’s a story with multi-layered characters, tattered around the edges atmosphere, and revelations about relationships and reality. One of the best mysteries I’ve read this year.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, September 2015.

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To enter the drawing for a paperback
copy of Little Pretty Things by Lori
Rader-Day,
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The winning
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ber 6th. This
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