Teeny Reviews: A Christmas Revelation by Anne Perry and How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews

A Christmas Revelation
Christmas Novella #18
Anne Perry
Ballantine Books, November 2018
ISBN 978-0-399-17994-5
Hardcover

I stopped reading Anne Perry‘s books a few years back when they started getting so much longer than I care for but I’ve remained a fan of her stories about William and Hester Monk and Thomas and Charlotte Pitt plus a myriad of wonderful secondary characters. When this novella came along, I decided I needed to touch base again, so to speak, and I’m glad I did.

This episode is set in and around Hester Monk’s clinic where a young boy has found a family of sorts with a volunteer and a bookkeeper. When Worm sees a woman being abducted, he goes to Squeaky, the bookkeeper, for help and, against his better judgement, Squeaky jumps in. What the pair learns about the woman puts a real twist on things but, bottomline, the mystery surrounding the woman takes a back seat to the growing relationship—and mutual caring—between a child who’s had to grow up too fast and a rather crotchety older man. It’s a sweet story in many ways.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

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How the Finch Stole Christmas
A Meg Langslow Mystery #22
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-11545-4
Hardcover

When Meg Langslow’s actor/professor husband decides to put on a production of “A Christmas Carol”, it becomes a family affair with the twins and Meg actively involved but it’s the actor Michael hired to play Scrooge who becomes the star of his own self-important, drunken show. Meg follows him, hoping to find out who’s supplying alcohol to Malcolm and also accidentally discovers an illegal exotic animal trafficking operation. Naturally, Meg and her animal devotee family have to get involved but finding a dead body wasn’t part of the bargain nor did they expect Malcolm to be pegged as the killer. And is the killing connected to the smuggling outfit or something else entirely? Meanwhile, a rescue group has Gouldian Finches being fostered everywhere and more are coming.

Anybody who hasn’t read a Meg Langslow book needs to run right out and remedy that omission but, please, start with the first one in the series. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on a lot of the humor and the family dynamics. Plus, you won’t get the full effect of Spike 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

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Book Review: Murder in Keswick by William Todd

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Author: William Todd

Narrator: Ben Werling

Length: 2 hours 38 muntes

Publisher: William Todd

Released: Oct. 16, 2018

Genre: Mystery

While on a well-deserved holiday in the Lake District to get away from the toils and troubles of London, Holmes and Watson find no respite. As soon as they exit the train, they hear news of a grisly murder making its way around the murmuring commuters. A local aristocrat, Mr. Darcy, has been found missing his head!

And that very night, the wealthy widow finds a stranger in her home who, upon seeing her, abandons his plans and quickly leaves. She believes the intruder to be the murderer of her husband who is now after a large sum of cash she keeps in the house safe.

Unsure if the would-be thief is the murderer or an opportunistic burglar, Holmes devises a plan to catch the burglar, all the while investigating the murder of Mr. Darcy. Follow Holmes, Watson, and the local constable Mr. Wickham as they untangle the mystery surrounding a Murder in Keswick.

I have been writing online since the early 2000’s, primarily writing horror stories in the style of Poe and Lovecraft. I was the 2nd most popular author on the website storiesbyemail.com for two years before moving on. I had my first book, a Victorian era horror compilation called Bumps in the Night, published by Mystic Moon Press just a week before they closed their website and never saw my hard work pay off. Afterwards I took publishing into my own hands, became an Indie author and haven’t looked back. My first self-published book was Dead of Night, another compilation of Victorian horror stories, published September 2016 by Createspace and on Kindle by KDP. After its publication I left my comfort zone for mystery and wrote a short story about Sherlock Holmes in the Conan Doyle style. I loved it so much I then did a longer story A Reflection of Evil, both published in 2017 through Createspace and KDP. I have just release Beyond the Gossamer Veil, another compilation of both Victorian and modern supernatural/horror stories and am in the beginning stages of my third Sherlock Holmes installment.

Goodreads

Narrator Bio

Ben is an award winning actor and voice over professional, who has performed all across the United States. From Shakespeare to Neil Simon, he has displayed a versatility and diversity in the characters and dialects he has portrayed. Ben received the Joseph Jefferson Award for Leading Actor as abusive talk show host Barry Champlain in Eric Bogosian’s TALK RADIO, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor as Prosecutor Villeforte in Alexander Dumas’ THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, also in Chicago. He has worked with an extensive list of theaters in Chicago over the last three decades: Steppenwolf, Bailiwick, Famous Door, Next, A Red Orchid, Raven Theater, First Folio, Writer’s Theater, Buffalo Theater Ensemble, as well as Utah Shakespeare Festival, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Indiana Repertory, Madison Repertory, and Allenberry Playhouse in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. He is an Ensemble member of Shattered Globe Theater in Chicago. For almost a decade he was the voice of the Adler Planetarium, hosting live shows and pointing out the stars, planets and constellations on the big dome. Ben has an eponymous weekly vlog on YouTube, that he films, produces, edits and narrates. He lives in Chicago with his wife Amy, two dogs and three cats.

Not everyone who wishes to add to the the Sherlock Homes pastiche can do so all that well but Mr. Todd pretty much nails it with Murder in Keswick. In fact, I think it might, in time, earn a place in the extracanonical body of work. Rather than the adventures of descendants of Holmes and Watson which have become so popular—and of which I’m very fond—this takes us back to the great detective himself and his companion.

The pair have set off for a vacation in the Lake District and Holmes is already bored without a worthy puzzle to solve so, when they step off the train in Keswick to hear talk about a headless body that’s been found, he can’t be happier. Who IS happier is the local constable, Mr. Wickham, who can’t believe he’ll be able to work with the famous detective.

Mr. Darcy, the victim, is naturally not happy without his head and the trio are soon hot on the trail of clues which, of course, only Holmes takes in but there are two women at the heart of the case, both very strongwilled and appealing. Could one of them be the killer? With a nifty twist near the end, all comes together…after Holmes shares his perspective, of course.

Ben Werling is a credible narrator who took me back to oldstyle Sherlock Holmes narrators, the best kind. He doesn’t differentiate voices all that well, especially females, but I actually don’t mind that. When I listen to a Sherlock Holmes story, I always hear Dr. Watson’s voice telling the story and I expect to hear him, not other characters. The only thing I didn’t care for in the production is the various background noises meant to enhance the settings; my hearing isn’t the greatest and I was distracted trying to figure out what I was hearing. I wouldn’t want them to be louder, just not there at all.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by William Todd. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

Q&A with Author William Todd
  • Tell us about the process of turning your book into an audiobook.
    • I never used to even think about how a book would sound as an audiobook…until I finally had one done. Now, I do. The story is most important, whether read or heard. I a bad story is a bad story. But I am more cognizant now when I write with how a phrase might sound read aloud. I think my audiobooks now are much easier on the ear then my first ones because of that. And my narrator, Ben Werling, I’ve used on every story. He’s great and has a wide vocal range. He makes turning a book into audio so much easier on me. I think we’re a good team. I basically give him my manuscript with some simple directions as to accents, maybe weird words that might pop up, since I write typically late Victorian era material, and he does the rest. He does a chapter at a time and sends them to me to okay. We rarely have to redo anything. I am truly lucky because the process, at least for me, is very simple with Ben at the helm.
  • Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
    • Because audiobooks are so prevalent and getting more and more popular by the day, I think you have to be conscious of it becoming an audiobook while writing, especially if you plan on using that format. And I think an author is selling himself short if he doesn’t at least consider putting his creations on audiobook. It is another channel to garner readers and followers…and revenue.
  • How did you select your narrator?
    • I put up three pages of my book for narrators to “audition”. I listen to each audition and pick the best one. But because Ben and I have such a good working relationship, ultimately, he gets my jobs. It is not only because he is such a good narrator. I write Sherlock Holmes and gothic horror. At least for the Holmes stories, I prefer having the same Holmes and Watson in each of my stories. Ben has been hands down the best Holmes and Watson I have found so why would I switch? I don’t think my readers would like that, and I know they would hear the difference.
  • Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
    • I am. Until I land on the best-sellers list or get a movie deal, I have a job to pay bills and raise my family. I drive 45 minutes one way. Sometimes, that hour and a half is the only time I have to myself, and the perfect way to spend that time is listening to audiobooks. There are just times in this hustle and bustle life where cracking open a paperback is not possible. But your ears are always available to listen.
  • Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
    • I might have to say all of it, but there’s a reason. Well, okay I’ll narrow it down to the final scenes of the book during a storm. But the reason I say all of it is because Ben employs subtle sound effects in the background much like the old radio stories. There is one part of the story where there is a storm, and the thunder and lightning in the background of the narrations lends itself perfectly to the feel of the scene.
  • If you had the power to time travel, would you use it? If yes, when and where would you go?
    • Oh absolutely. I would love to go back to say anytime between 1880 – 1915. The late Victorian era/ Gilded Age fascinates me. It was a time of extreme change, and those changes caused fear. I play off those fears in my horror stories, and Sherlock Holmes was the penultimate player in those times.
  • What gets you out of a writing slump? What about a reading slump?
    • For both it is the same–just do it. It is very easy for life to get in the way of writing. And it’s also very easy to fall out of the habit of writing. Mowing, cleaning, doing things with family, work, prepare for holidays, just plain being lazy (guilty as charged), etc. You have to make the time. This just happened to me where I wrote nothing for over two weeks, and I have deadline to have a Holmes story written by the end of the year for a publication next year. I had been under the weather and busy with life on top of that. There were times where I could have written but didn’t. The good habit of writing almost daily had been broken. But for me, all it took was forcing myself to sit at the lap top and writing a few sentences. Those few sentences ended at ten pages. Same with reading. Even if you have to force yourself, do it. If you love to read and love to write, just the mere act will set you right again. At least it does for me.
  • Have any of your characters ever appeared in your dreams?
    • That is where I usually get impetus for my stories, so yeah. Many characters I’ve come up with have appeared in my dreams. The trick is finding the story in which they will appear, especially when I might be working on more than one story at a time.
  • Do you have any tips for authors going through the process of turning their books into audiobooks?
    • Be picky in who you choose. The narrator is 50 percent of the audiobook, the other 50 percent being the story itself. I have heard many good stories butchered by bad narration.
  • What’s next for you?
    • I was approached by the editor of the MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes stories and asked if I would contribute a story to Volume XIII due out next summer, so I am honored to be one of the authors selected to add to that volume. It will be the first time that I am published with a traditional publisher but hopefully not my last.
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Dream Cast

Author William Todd’s Picks For Murder in Keswick
  • Holmes: Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Watson: Martin Freeman
  • Constable Wickham: Rupert Grint (AKA Ron Weasley of Harry Potter)
  • Mrs. Darcy: Catherine Bell (Hallmark’s The Good Witch)
  • Morwenna McGlinn: Emilia Clark (GOT)
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Giveaway

Prize: $20 PayPal Cash

Murder in Keswick Giveaway: $20 PayPal Cash

Dec. 4th:

Dab of Darkness Book Reviews

Dec. 5th:

Jorie Loves A Story

Dec. 6th:

Bound 4 Escape

T’s Stuff

Dec. 7th:

Lynn’s Romance Enthusiasm

What Is That Book About

Dec. 8th:

Lilly’s Book World

Dec. 9th:

Jazzy Book Reviews

Book Addict

Dec. 10th:

The Book Addict’s Reviews

Buried Under Books

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Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Coffee by Mary C. M. Phillips

Pride and Prejudice and Coffee
Mary C. M. Phillips
eBookIt.com, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-4566-3070-6
Ebook

From the book’s “Introduction”:  Hundreds of years ago, before the world enjoyed their favorite beverage, coffee beans were chewed.  The refreshing jolt that native Ethiopians experienced might be similar to what we now encounter as we sip upon a freshly brewed cup of java; however, the method of delivery left much to be desired.”

This charming tale, sub-titled “A Caffeinated Romance and Brief Exploration of the Coffee Industry,” is just that.  While describing a protest at the premises of The Pemberley Corporation, a public corporation whose interests included coffee growers in Brazil, Guatemala and Colombia, the reader is made aware of the dire working conditions extant for those farm workers, who, along with their children, “labored in the hot sun without any respite of shade.”  Pemberley held large positions in these publicly traded stocks, and is now being held to account for “the exploitation of workers.”

I suspect that I am not alone in my ignorance of situations such as those described here, which I have no doubt reflect the actuality of the conditions described, at least in some if not all of these farms.  I suspect that I am also not alone in my complete enjoyment of a good cup of coffee [which, of course, does not excuse the conditions endured by these farm workers!].

Along with the personal lives of the protagonists, which is completely charming, each section [not denoted as ‘chapters’] is followed by a paragraph or so of fascinating tidbits of information, headed “Sip on This,” e.g., “Coffee and Romance,” “Gluten-free Food,” “Etiquette,” “Corporate Greed [discussing the Enron bankruptcy],” et al.  These take place in, among other disparate places, Jones Beach [New York], Costa Rica, and Central Park!  One does not normally think of the exploitation of workers as we sip our morning cups of coffee [apparently the most heavily traded commodity in the world, next to oil], until one reads this mind-opening book!

A complete change of pace, this short, fast-moving novel is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2018.

Teeny Reviews: Rattus New Yorkus by Hunter Shea and Burglars & Blintzes by Morgan C. Talbot

Rattus New Yorkus
Hunter Shea: One Size Eats All #2
Hunter Shea
Lyrical Underground/Kensington, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-5161-0794-0
Ebook

TONIGHT’S DINNER SPECIAL: US

They were either some kind of rat council of elders, or the rodent world’s version of a repugnant Moe, Larry, and Curly.

Benny and Chris—divorcing but still working together—are exterminators but even they are overwhelmed by what they’re seeing in the rat population, ever since they distributed a new kind of poison a few weeks earlier. Suddenly, the horrible creatures are much bigger and way more aggressive. Worse, they seem to be reproducing like crazy and working together, planning, strategizing.

And then they disappear but we know they haven’t really disappeared.

I’d yet to meet a man more intimidating than five-foot Sister Veronica.

I confess, I love creepy horror stories that are full of black humor and this one has it in spades. One liners abound and I just couldn’t resist chuckling even while I was reading about nasty rats:

I never said I wasn’t a world-class dumb-ass.

I’m beginning to think that Hunter Shea is a master of high camp as well as “normal” horror and Rattus New Yorkus was every bit as entertaining as the first of the One Size Eats All series. The third story, The Devil’s Fingers, will be released in October but, in the meantime, I’m happy to say there are plenty of older books to romp through and a new novel, Creature, coming in September.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

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Burglars & Blintzes
Moorehaven Mysteries Book 2
Morgan C. Talbot
Red Adept Publishing, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-948051-14-9
Trade Paperback

When treasure is discovered on a construction site in Seacrest, Oregon, word spreads fast and treasure hunters soon descend on the beach town followed by a marine salvage company. Unfortunately, the treasure came with a dead body and it turns out to be a long-missing man who Pippa’s uncle Hilt knew well.

Pippa Winterbourne loves her B&B, Moorehaven, and all the work that goes with it but she still has time to pull her friends and guests (mystery authors) together to find out what’s going on when accidents begin to happen and old secrets come to light. She’s also a bit distracted when her boyfriend, Lake, is hired as a boat pilot by the salvage company and one of the crew takes a special interest in Lake.

Any mystery reader will be intrigued by the collection of mystery authors who are staying at Moorehaven and the townspeople are equally as interesting and vividly drawn. To add a little drama, Lake’s ex-wife, Mallory, is the police chief and she and Pippa have a strained relationship at best. Needless to say, Mallory would just as soon Pippa stayed out of the investigation but Pippa can’t help herself.

That investigation is two-fold with the old case of the dead man and his pocket full of Spanish doubloons and a present-day murder so Pippa and her cohorts are kept busy. I have to say I didn’t figure it out till near the end, the best kind of mystery, and I enjoyed the investigation a lot. I’ll look forward to the third entry in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

A Trio of Teeny Reviews

Ain’t She a Peach
Southern Eclectic #4
Molly Harper
Gallery Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-5133-0
Trade Paperback

Once again, the McCready family of Lake Sackett, Georgia, is back in fine fettle with their McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop and, also once again, they’ve captured my heart. This time the focus is on Frankie, the youngish coroner/embalmer who considers herself well past the age of independence but her parents don’t know how to even begin to think of letting their precious only child spread her wings, so to speak. Sure, she sneaks off to Atlanta occasionally for a night of satisfying rowdiness but she can’t make herself move out (although she has disabled the location service they use to track her). There are very good reasons for this helicopter parenting but, really, she needs to grow a pair!

There’s a new Sheriff in town, Erik Linden, and while Frankie has a few, or a lot, of philosophical differences with Erik, including his queasiness around her dead customers, she’s finding it very hard to resist the man. Meanwhile, the rest of the McCready bunch are around and about and the town’s Halloween Trunk-R-Treat festival is coming up while a teenaged desperado has it in for Frankie for some reason.

The whole rambunctious McCready clan is a family I’d love to be part of and this fourth book in Molly Harper‘s series is just as much fun as all the others. Oh, I do hope there will be more!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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Jurassic, Florida
Hunter Shea: One Size Eats All #1
Hunter Shea
Lyrical Press/Kensington, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5161-0793-3
Ebook

LOL, I’m still chuckling over this book and I have only myself to blame for not having indulged in Hunter Shea‘s work before. Polo Springs, Florida, is a quiet little place but people are starting to notice that the lizard population, specifically small iguanas, seems to be popping up everywhere. Not just popping up—slithering and scampering and the little beasts apparently have lost all fear. Not so the humans in this town, folks like Frank who’s running from the mob and Ann Hickok, the very unlikely mayor who’s only 18 years old. Everyone in Polo Springs has stepped into their own Godzilla movie and the future’s looking very, very dim.

Polo Springs is about to get a rude awakening and they’ll wish they had those little iguanas back. In scenes that are alternately grisly and scream-inducing but also high camp, we learn the answer to the question: can anyone save this town from the invasion of giant people-eating critters?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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In His Kiss
Neil Plakcy
Featherweight Publishing, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-64122-112-2
Trade Paperback

There’s nothing easy about high school, as most of us know, but senior Michael has it worse than some. First of all, he’s gay. No big secret there but he’s almost painfully shy and definitely insecure when it comes to actually finding “the right one” or even one who will do for right now. He’s also saddled with his younger brother, Robbie, aka the Big Mistake and family life pretty much revolves around Robbie with his multitudes of allergies and other issues. On the positive side, he has an awesome best friend, Brie, and she makes life in Stewart’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, tolerable although Michael is way past ready to get out of Dodge.

And then along comes Daniel Florez and life for Michael will never be the same again. Luckily for him, Daniel has a little more self-confidence—really, he’s almost oblivious to what’s not supposed to work or maybe his home life has just given him a thicker skin so he’s not quite as vulnerable. Whatever it is, Daniel is not afraid to make the first move and the second and the third… Suddenly, things are looking up for these two really nice kids and the future might be bright but there are some side effects, including resentment from Brie, but why are strange things happening to Michael, like awesome SAT scores? And, minor detail, why is the FBI hanging around spying on Daniel?

With a bit of fantasy and a lot of high school angst, not to mention lots of humor and love of all sorts, Neil Plakcy has created a story that had me smiling a lot and cringing just a little (in a good way) and I definitely want to know what Michael and Daniel are going to be up to next 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

Book Review: The Tribulations of August Barton by Jennifer LeBlanc

Continue reading

Book Reviews: Denver Moon by Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola

Denver Moon
Metamorphosis
Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola
Hex Publishers, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-9997736-9-7
Ebook

From the publisher—

Denver Moon is Mars’ top private eye. She works the tunnels of Mars City, a struggling colony ravaged by the mysterious red fever. Her latest client, Jard Calder, is demanding results. Someone is dismembering the pimp’s prostitutes and salvaging their body parts. But since the victims are robots instead of humans, is it really murder?

As a matter of fact, this is actually a serious felony on Mars and Denver finds herself literally staring at body parts although these parts are plastic and plasma-gel rather than flesh and blood. This is not the first victim she’s seen with these nasty damages but, even in the rotten underbelly of Mars, a prostitute deserves better treatment. Are these attacks directed at the bots themselves or at the man who runs this prostitution enterprise, Jard Calder?

This is a private eye with a few interesting characteristics. First, she’s colorblind and that serves her very well on this planet with a madness-inducing disease called Red Fever that has something to do with all the red on Mars. Also, she carries an artificial intelligence named Smith on her belt and he doesn’t hesitate to call her out when he sees fit.

Murder or not, Denver has a job to do and she’s going to have to go into the Red Tunnel. There, she runs into Rafe Ranchard, a man with a grudge, and a most unlikely pair of lovers. This is not going to end well but I really enjoyed this short story introduction to a very unusual detective.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2018.

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Denver Moon
The Minds of Mars
Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola
Hex Publishers, June 2018
ISBN 978-0-9997736-6-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Earth is dying. Luna is uninhabitable. Mars is our last chance.

Once considered humanity’s future home, Mars hasn’t worked out like anybody hoped. Plagued by crime and a terraforming project that’s centuries from completion, Mars is a red hell.

Denver Moon, P.I., works the dark underbelly of Mars City. While investigating a series of violent crimes linked to red fever–a Martian disorder that turns its victims into bloodthirsty killers–Denver discovers a cryptic message left by Tatsuo Moon, Mars City co-founder and Denver’s grandfather. The same grandfather who died two decades ago.

Twenty-year-old revelations force Denver on a quest for truth, but Tatsuo’s former friend, Cole Hennessy, leader of the Church of Mars, has other plans and will stop at nothing to keep Denver from disclosing Tatsuo’s secrets to the world.

Hell-bent on reclaiming her grandfather’s legacy, Denver–along with her AI implant, Smith, companion android, Nigel, and shuttle pilot, Navya–set out on a quest to find the answers they hope will shed light on the church’s true agenda, the origin of red fever, and the mysteries surrounding Tatsuo’s tragic death.

Red Fever is a terrible disease that causes its victims to become murderous madmen but Denver is the ideal detective to investigate the fever because it attacks through color and she is colorblind. In the course of her work, she begins to get hints that her long-dead grandfather Tatsuo (whose personality is built into Denver’s AI, Smith) may not be dead after all. That, of course, sets her off on a new path, one that propels her into the heart of danger, including a church that’s as malevolent as they come. Denver and Smith—who, brilliantly, is actually a Smith & Wesson—delve futher and further in search of the truth that is full of surprises, both good and bad.

Worldbuilding is a bit lacking in that we know Earth is becoming uninhabitable but not why. That’s a pretty significant omission because humans have elected to move to a planet that is not exactly user-friendly and I’d like to understand why and how Mars is the better choice. On the other hand, I think having Denver be colorblind is a masterly decision and gives her so much more flexibility than other investigators and the relationship between her and Smith is really appealing and frequently funny. All in all, Denver’s story is a nice blend of science fiction and mystery with a good deal of adventure thrown in.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2018.