Short Story Review: Wildcat by Sara Paretsky—and a Giveaway!

Wildcat
V. I. Warshawski’s First Case
Sara Paretsky
Witness Impulse, March 2017
ISBN 9780062689504
Ebook Single

From the publisher—

Sara Paretsky, one of the most legendary crime writers of all time, presents an exclusive and thrilling short story featuring beloved investigator V.I. Warshawski as a ten-year-old girl on her first investigation.


V.I. Warshawski developed her strength and sense of justice at a very early age. It’s 1966 and on the south side of Chicago racial tensions are at an all-time high. Dr. Martin Luther King is leading marches at Marquette Park and many in the neighborhood are very angry.

With nothing but a bicycle, eighty-two cents in her pocket, and her Brownie camera hanging from her wrist, Victoria sneaks off to Marquette Park alone to protect her father Tony, a police officer who is patrolling the crowds.

What begins as a small adventure and a quest to find her father and make sure he is safe turns into something far more dangerous. As the day goes on and the conflict at the park reaches a fever pitch Victoria realizes she must use her courage and ingenuity if she wants to keep herself and her family members out of harm’s way.

I don’t know if it’s actually true but, for years, I’ve thought that Sara Paretsky and V. I. Warshawski have one thing very much in common—they’re both total badasses. Now, I know that V. I. was that way even as a child and I couldn’t be more delighted.

I’m not going to say much about the plot of this story—it’s so short the description given above by the publisher is almost longer. Just kidding, of course, but this IS a very short short story. Still, Ms. Paretsky packs a lot into these few pages and it serves its purposes, to entertain and to give us a little insight into what makes V. I. Warshawski aka Victoria tick.

Chicago in 1966 was deep in the civil rights era and even a 10-year-old felt the tension so, when Victoria believes her dad is at risk, her first reaction is to rush off on her bicycle to his aid. As young as she is, Victoria has been raised by her Holocaust survivor mother to be aware of the evil that can begin with words of hatred. In fact, it’s this sense of right and wrong that’s at Victoria’s core, that will in later life lead her to work for justice whenever she can. Her venture this time is also her own personal introduction to police corruption, the Mafia, extreme prejudice and violence.

And a private investigator is born.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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About the Author

Hailed by P.D. James as “the most remarkable” of modern crime writers, SARA PARETSKY is the New York Times-bestselling author of nineteen previous novels, including the renowned V.I. Warshawski series. She is one of only four living writers – alongside John Le Carré, Sue Grafton, and Lawrence Block – to have received both the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America and the Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain. She lives in Chicago with her husband.

Before there was Lisbeth Salander, before there was Stephanie Plum, there was V.I. WARSHAWSKI. She took the mystery world by storm in 1982 with her first appearance in Indemnity Only. A gifted private eye with the grit and smarts to tackle the mean streets, V.I. transformed a genre in which women were typically either vamps or victims. As a “courageous, sexually liberated female investigator,” she “has a humility, a humanity, and a need for human relationships which the male hard-boilers lack” (P.D. James). She lives in Chicago with her dog.

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copy of Wildcat, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
Thursday evening, March 16th and the
ebook will be sent out after the tour ends.
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

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Teeny Reviews: Joy to the Worlds by Maia Chance, Janine A. Southard, Raven Oak and G. Clemans, No Honor Among Thieves by J.A. Jance, Peril by Ponytail by Nancy J. Cohen, One Year After by William R. Forstchen, and Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes by Karin Slaughter

Joy to the WorldsJoy to the Worlds
Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays
Maia Chance, Janine A. Southard, Raven Oak and G. Clemans
Grey Sun Press, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-9908157-6-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What do you get when you mix mystery and speculative fiction, then toss in the holidays for good measure? A mobster Santa, genetic hanky-panky, Victorian villages, time-travelling detectives, a Krampus, eerie bell spirits, and more–this collection of short cross-genre fiction is the perfect counterpoint to traditional holiday reading!

Joy to the Worlds brings together eight short works that explore mysteries across time and space. Ranging from dark dystopian worlds to comedic retro-futures, four diverse writers find new ways to combine these disparate worlds.

This collection stars national bestselling mystery author Maia Chance, who dazzles with humor and folklore; IPPY award-winning science fiction author Janine A. Southard beguiles with unexpected time-travel science; science fiction and fantasy bestseller Raven Oak offers a look into the gothic past; and for a whole new perspective, debut fiction author and art expert G. Clemans dives into the intersections of creativity and mystery.

Whether you enjoy science fiction, fantasy, mystery, Christmas, noir, gothic, or folktales—this collection has something for you.

I tend to shy away from anthologies because I don’t much like coming to the end of a short story I really like, wanting it to be a full-length novel, but Joy to the Worlds interested me on first glance because I knew and liked two of the authors’ work but had never tried the others. This seemed like a good opportunity to return to familiar writers and meet a couple more.

Tyson Wallenstein, a dead detective trying to prove himself—he’s only been dead a year so he’s the newbie of the group—sets out to investigate a man’s death without all the trappings of a living detective (no forensics, no DNA, etc.) in the first story and I was immediately captivated. Was it an accident? Murder? Is the prosthetic leg attached to a high heel a clue? Why does mistletoe seem to be everywhere?

In another story, a young American named Odysseus Flax is overcome with motion sickness while traveling by train through the Alps and jumps off the train in a little village called Kiefertal. There he encounters the underbelly of Christmas during Krampusnacht when a very rich man decides to scare his obnoxious little boy and Odysseus learns there is much he does not know about what’s real or not real in this picturesque little town.

Four authors with four very different choices of genre and style offer two stories each that entertain in an unexpected way, giving the reader a slightly askew look at the holiday season. What better way to be introduced to authors you haven’t tried before?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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No Honor Among ThievesNo Honor Among Thieves
An Ali Reynolds/Joanna Brady Novella
J.A. Jance
Pocket Star Books, November 2015
ISBN 978-1-5011-3559-0
Ebook

From the publisher—

“A semi’s gone over the embankment.” The call wakes Sheriff Joanna Brady in the middle of the night, but what brings her fully alert is the rest of the story. The driver didn’t drift off to sleep and cross the center line—he was shot, multiple times, by someone with serious firepower. And when the truck crashed through the guardrail, its payload wound up scattered all over the road—boxes upon boxes of Legos.

Legos that are being tracked by B. Simpson’s security firm to reduce black market sales—and Ali Reynolds is just the woman to get to the bottom of the crime. She has the tech and the intel to follow the money (or, in this case, the Legos), which makes her a valuable asset to Joanna’s team. Soon these two strong women realize that they’re not just sharing a case, they’re kindred spirits—which is paramount, because the killer they’re up against is anything but child’s play.

A new Joanna Brady story is always a treat to my way of thinking and, in No Honor Among Thieves, we get the best of two protagonists, Joanna and Ali Reynolds. So much fun!

Other characters are just as enjoyable, Kendra, B. and Cami just to name a few. One of Ms. Jance‘s particular strengths lies in creating characters you can develop a connection with and I never feel overloaded with names to keep straight other than a few of the very minor players.

Who knew LEGOS are actually a hot product on the black market? Yes, those little plastic things you make cool stuff with go for high prices once a set is retired, much like other collectibles, and that’s what brings Ali into the investigation. Her husband’s security company has been hired to shadow LEGOS shipments to try to identify the sources of the black market commodities and B. sends Ali to the scene to check out the identification chips on the LEGOS packages, hopefully to figure out why a midsized truck was carrying the toys on back roads. What she and Joanna find, though, only adds to the puzzle of why someone wanted to kill the driver in such a spectacular fashion and, before it’s all over, a gigantic mistake is made.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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Peril by PonytailPeril by Ponytail
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #12
Nancy J. Cohen
Five Star Publishing, September 2015
ISBN 978-1432830984
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Marla and Dalton’s honeymoon at an Arizona dude ranch veers from dangerous to downright deadly faster than a horse headed to the corral. With her husband’s uncle–the resort’s owner–on the suspect list for murder, Marla races to prove his innocence. She hopes her blind trust isn’t misplaced, especially when she learns their relative has secrets he’d rather keep buried. As the bodies pile up, she digs deep to find the killer. With her new family in jeopardy, she’d better figure out who’s adding to the spirits haunting a nearby ghost town before someone she loves is hurt.

The very idea of the girly-girl Marla honeymooning at a dude ranch was funny enough to make me want to read Peril by Ponytail, latest in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, and I found myself highly entertained by the scenario. Marla is her usual snoopy self (although, as can be expected, quite rational about it) and feels compelled to investigate when her uncle by marriage becomes a murder suspect in the midst of a series of mishaps at the ranch and a nearby ghost town.

The relationship between Marla and her police detective husband, Dalton, is appealing, partially because they respect each other’s abilities in investigating crime. Marla is no ditzy woman who thinks she knows better than the police; rather, they work together comfortably.

Secrets abound, motives keep cropping up and danger seems to be everywhere but there’s fun to be had watching Marla do her thing. She might want folks to think she’s annoyed by the interruption to her honeymoon but those of us who’ve been following her adventures for years know better, don’t we? 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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One Year AfterOne Year After
William R. Forstchen
Forge, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-7653-7670-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The story picks up a year after One Second After ends, two years since the detonation of nuclear weapons above the United States brought America to its knees. After suffering starvation, war, and countless deaths, the survivors of Black Mountain, North Carolina, are beginning to piece back together the technologies they had once taken for granted: electricity, radio communications, and medications. They cling to the hope that a new national government is finally emerging.

Then comes word that most of the young men and women of the community are to be drafted into an “Army of National Recovery” and sent to trouble spots hundreds of miles away.

When town administrator John Matherson protests the draft, he’s offered a deal: leave Black Mountain and enter national service, and the draft will be reduced. But the brutal suppression of a neighboring community under its new federal administrator and the troops accompanying him suggests that all is not as it should be with this burgeoning government.

Six years ago, I read One Second After by this same author and was struck by how well Mr. Forstchen created the world that would exist immediately after a devastating EMP attack and during the following year. Black Mountain, NC, became a microcosm of the self-destruction and the triumph over extreme adversity that would inevitably follow such an event, made even more realistic for me because I’ve been to the real Black Mountain and could easily “see” what went on. All these years later, it remains one of my favorite post-apocalyptic novels despite a few flaws and I hoped the author would someday let us know what happened to the survivors of Black Mountain.

Finally, I heard earlier this year that the sequel was coming out and I jumped right on it. Let me just say I was not the least bit disappointed and found the premise of a bureaucracy run amok to be completely credible. After all, there are many people in this world who think they should be in charge but I also have no trouble believing the people of a small town would come together in an effort to do what’s right and best for their neighbors while still trying to help those outside the community. Setting this story in a small town was the perfect thing to do because the reader really gets to know the people and develop a strong connection that isn’t as likely in a densely-populated area. This sequel focuses on what the survivors would do after the initial emergency, what choices they would make going forward. One Year After is a gripping novel although, by the nature of the beast, it doesn’t have the riveting impact of the first book. Still, I’m really anticipating the third book, Unite Or Die, due out in September 2016.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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Blonde Hair, Blue EyesBlonde Hair, Blue Eyes
Karin Slaughter
Witness Impulse, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-2442819
Ebook
Also available in mass market paperback

From the publisher—

“A beautiful young girl was walking down the street―when suddenly…”

Julia Carroll knows that too many stories start that way. Beautiful, intelligent, a nineteen-year-old college freshman, she should be carefree. But instead she is frightened. Because girls are disappearing.

A fellow student, Beatrice Oliver, is missing. A homeless woman called Mona-No-Name is missing. Both taken off the street. Both gone without a trace.

Julia is determined to find out the reasons behind their disappearances. And she doesn’t want to be next…

Karin Slaughter‘s name always comes to my mind when I hear the word “thriller”. She’s a bit too realistic for some readers but I love her work and had been anxiously awaiting her new standalone, Pretty Girls, when I saw that there was a prequel short story, giving us the backstory of one of the Pretty Girls characters. I tend to read prequels after the fact even when they’re actually offered before the primary novel so I was especially eager to grab Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes.

When bad things happen to young women, they’re frequently blonde with blue eyes as that seems to be a favorite type for bad guys. What’s interesting about this particular blonde is that she knows girls have gone missing and she’s frightened for herself, as any rational person would be, but she’s still determined to write the story that will focus attention on the supposed abductions. In doing so, Julia puts a target on her own back…or is it possible the danger is closer to home?

All in all, this is an excellent lead-in to Pretty Girls.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

 

Shorts Reviews: Half-Life by Tina Ferraro and The Last Second by Robin Burcell

Half-LifeHalf-Life
Tina Ferraro
Leap Books, March 2015
ISBN 9781616030261
Ebook

From the publisher—

Half a life is not worth living.

Probably not a good idea to take advice from your dead twin sister. High school sophomore Trisha Traynor and friends have played the Halloween mirror game for years, the one that’s supposed to show a glimpse of the guy they’ll marry. But no one’s ever seen anything.

Until tonight—when Trisha is gob smacked by the candlelit arrival of her long-deceased twin sister, instead of her crush, Kirk Maxwell.

In a voice and vision that only Trisha can hear and see, Chessie claims to be back on a compassionate journey. Trisha fears she’s gone nuthouse crazy. But she nonetheless follows the instructions Chessie outlines in their nightly conversations, until she finds herself stepping across some ethical lines, and probably ending all chances with Kirk.

When a sisterly showdown ensues, resulting in the shattering of the mirror, Chessie’s gone again, and a heartsick Trisha sets about righting her recent wrongs. That is, until she stumbles upon the real reason Chessie had come back and the most important glimpse yet that the mirror could never predict.

One thing really struck me about Half-Life that doesn’t often happen with books, young adult or otherwise. I connected with Trisha in a major way because she and I had a lot in common if you just forget the facts that she doesn’t actually exist and that there is about a 50 year spread going on. Pah! Minor details! Now, I didn’t have a twin who died as a young child and I’ve never seen a ghost in a mirror or anywhere else but I was a 14-year-old girl when I had my first kiss and my first boyfriend and, my goodness, the memories and the feelings of my 14-year-old self all came flooding back.

Trisha’s home life is just shy of normal. Her mom has never been able to come to terms with Chessie’s death so Trisha, her little brother and her dad all have to tiptoe around her, not even daring to talk openly about Chessie. That all makes it even more critical that the rest of Trisha’s life—school, friends, potential boyfriends, etc.—stay on an even keel. Unfortunately, her BFF, Abby, has pretty much dropped her because she has a boyfriend and a neighboring schoolmate is pressuring Trisha to do something she knows is wrong. Oh, and what is she going to do about those two guys, the DDG (Drop Dead Gorgeous) Kirk and Chadwick, and her ghostly sister?

Half-Life is a sweet story with a little bit of intrigue and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is my introduction to Tina Ferraro‘s work and I just may have to try some more 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

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The Last SecondThe Last Second
Robin Burcell
Witness Impulse, December 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-2273734
Ebook

From the publisher—

Covert agent Zachary Griffin and FBI Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick are sidetracked from an ongoing investigation to follow up on a potential lead. In a small Arizona border town, gunrunning and drug trafficking into Mexico are a part of the landscape—but not when they’re orchestrated by an officer in uniform. At least that’s the story told to agents Griffin and Fitzpatrick.

But the dirty cop is now missing, and his sister says he’s innocent, a victim of a corrupt police department. She is convinced they set him up to take the fall, then killed him, and she can prove it—with help from a highly unusual witness. Suddenly an open-and-shut case seems anything but, and the clock is ticking as Griffin and Fitzpatrick take on an entire police department in a deadly match that could go up in smoke at the last second.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read any of Robin Burcell‘s books, not because I didn’t want to but just because I have a mountainous TBR that never gets any smaller. Anyway, I’m very glad that I picked up this short story because it reminded me of how much I really do like Sydney and Zach.

At first, the case seems to be relatively simple: a dirty cop, Calvin Walker, working with the Mexican cartels, might be the person who can lead Sidney and Zach to the head of the operation, a gunrunning ex-CIA agent named Garrett Quindlen. Trouble is Calvin has disappeared and may be in possession of a lot of explosives. Finding him is problematic until they hear about a special witness named Max.

I really enjoyed this story. As short as it is, Ms. Burcell has packed a good deal of action and suspense into this reminder that this is an author well worth reading. I hope that, by the time I catch up on her work, a new book will be coming out, either in this series or Kate Gillespie’s or, what the heck, something entirely new 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

Reviews of a Few Shorts

Stand DownStand Down
A J. P. Beaumont Novella
J.A. Jance
Witness Impulse, July 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-241848-7
Ebook
Also available in mass market paperback

From the publisher—

Life has shifted for J. P. Beaumont. After a tragic accident that devastated—and ultimately disbanded—his Special Homicide Investigaton Team, he accepts that he has left homicide detection behind at this point, but he has a lot of unanticipated free time on his hands. He’s keeping busy with renovations on the new house that he and his wife, Mel Soames, the newly appointed chief of police in Bellingham, Washington, have bought. But new fixtures and paint palettes can occupy only so much of Beau’s daily life, and Mel is encouraging him to return to where he is needed: investigating crimes.

In the meantime, she is struggling to gain control of her new situation, cast into a department where some are welcoming—and some are not. It’s been a few months, and the tension in the police department is rising, but Beau realizes Mel has to tackle things in her own way, so he refrains from advising. But when Beau shows up one afternoon to survey the construction at their new house and finds Mel’s car there but no sign of her, his investigative instincts kick in. Suddenly he’s back in the game—except this time, his heart is on the line as well as his professional dignity.

There are many ways that J.A. Jance shows herself to be a remarkably good writer and Stand Down is one of the best examples. This is a short work but, in just these few words, Ms. Jance paints a living picture of Beau and Mel and their lives. When she takes us through the ungodly hours when everything changed for them, I had tears in my eyes and that just doesn’t happen to me when I’m reading a short because I don’t usually get invested without a full-length novel. Not so this time. My emotions were right out there on my sleeve.

And then Ms. Jance throws out a line like this, guaranteed to make me smile:

It was enough to piss off the Good Fairy.

Ah, yes, back on track again, this time Beau’s search for a missing person who just happens to be his police chief wife. No longer a working homicide detective—not by his choice—Beau reverts to character immediately and, by the time this case is resolved in an odd sort of way, his future is laid out for him. Next on the horizon is a new venture, Dance of the Bones, coming in September 2015. and I can hardly wait to see where life will take this died-in-the-wool cop.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

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Drunken FireworksDrunken Fireworks
Stephen King
Read by Tim Sample
AUDIOWORKS/Simon & Schuster Audio, June 2015
ISBN 978-1-4423-8964-9
Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

In this new tour-de-force from Stephen King—unavailable in print or any other format—a salt-of-the-earth Maine native recounts how a friendly annual summer fireworks show rivalry with his neighbor across the lake gradually spirals out of control…with explosive results!

In what came to be known by the locals as the 4th of July Arms Race, Alden McCausland and his Ma let a financial windfall go to their heads. When they set off a lovely fireworks display one Independence Day, the neighbors across the lake, the wealthy Massimos, decide to out-sparkle them. That’s all it takes to rile up Alden and Ma, determined that they will make known to the Massimos and other lake dwellers what a good fireworks show is all about.

Unfortunately, as you might expect in a Stephen King tale, all does not end exactly well (but nearly so). This is one of King’s more “mom-friendly” stories—a little bit of language but nothing horrific, just an entertaining anecdote about a rivalry between neighbors.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

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Summer RainSummer Rain
An Inspector Banks Short Story
Peter Robinson
William Morrow Impulse, June 2015
ISBN 978-06-241380-2
Ebook

From the publisher—

Inspector Alan Banks confronts one of the most puzzling cases of his career— when a tourist claims that several decades earlier, in a previous life, he witnessed a murder committed nearby.

Banks doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Or superstition. But when evidence of a crime comes to light, he begins to wonder: How did this mysterious visitor know about a killing possibly committed before he was born?

When Jerry Singer announces that he was murdered 32 years ago, DCI Banks is skeptical, to say the least, but it’s a boring day so he decides to look into this highly questionable event. After all, what if this purported murder really did happen? Besides, Inspector Banks would much rather sniff around a possible cold case than do paperwork.

The mystery here is slight but Summer Rain is a nice introduction for a reader new to the series. Mr. Robinson unquestionably has a way with words and his description of the Yorkshire Dales takes me back to the one trip I made there many years ago. The Inspector Banks novels can be comfortably read as standalones and I have, in fact, missed a few here and there but I’m really looking forward to In the Dark Places, coming out in August.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

Book Review: The Warning by Sophie Hannah and The After House by Michael Phillip Cash

The WarningThe Warning
Sophie Hannah
Witness Impulse, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-242884-4
Ebook
Mass Market Paperback available August 2015

From the publisher—

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

When a kindly stranger does Chloe a good deed, she decides she must repay him. But in tracing him, she meets a sympathetic woman named Nadine, who warns Chloe to stay away from the man at all costs. “Give him nothing, tell him nothing, don’t trust him,” she says. “Avoid him like the plague.”

Chloe knows the sensible thing to do: walk away. But her curiosity gets the best of her. What is the truth about the good Samaritan? How dangerous could he be? And can Chloe find the answers without putting herself and her daughter in harm’s way?

Years ago, when I was a Girl Scout, both as a girl and, later, as a troop leader, one of my very favorite campfire songs was “The Ash Grove”. Since that song is pretty much the catalyst for everything that happens in this story, I was completely hooked from the beginning. Unfortunately, it took no time at all for me to recognize that Chloe is essentially a stalker and, perhaps worse, TSTL.

Make no mistake, Ms. Hannah has crafted a terrific story full of questions and suspense and interesting characters. It’s a good thing because, otherwise, I might have closed the book right when Chloe signed a note to a near-stranger “Lots of love”. What woman in her right mind does that? If I hadn’t closed it then, I would have when she muses about how he’d be so hurt at what someone else said about him. Yes, she’s got the obsessive gene for sure.

When Tom mentions diamonds in a joking manner, Chloe immediately jumps to a ridiculous assumption. What is wrong with this besotted woman? Wait…could it be that Chloe and Tom are two peas in the proverbial pod?

And then it all goes upside down.

One of Sophie Hannah‘s many talents is that she can keep me reading even when I’m sure I no longer want to. Mind you, I still think Chloe is more than a little off the rails but, still and all, I’m not the least bit sorry I continued on, if only because I had the chance to once again see Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, soon to be starring in their own book, Woman with a Secret, coming in August.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.

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The After HouseThe After House
Michael Phillip Cash
CreateSpace, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-5006-0036-5
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Remy Galway and her daughter Olivia are rebuilding their life after a failed marriage in a 300 year old cottage in historic Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. Little do they know, another occupant is lurking in the haven of their own home. Will the After House be their shelter or their tomb?

The After House strikes me as a story that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a romance? A ghost story? A tale of love lost and love found? Of escaping an abusive relationship? Of foul play?

Actually, it’s all of the above and I think that works to its detriment because, as a relatively short book, we don’t have enough time to be really invested and the multiple threads don’t help. I also think that some of the behavior of the main character, Remy, becomes questionable because of the time restriction.

Why, for instance, is Remy virtually wallowing in self-pity when it’s been nearly a year since her divorce and surely longer since the events that ended her marriage? Why does she claim to be gunshy of relationships and then show herself to be otherwise? Why is whoever is out to cause her trouble so very, very incompetent?

Then there’s Captain Eli. I actually liked him much better than anyone else and had a good deal of sympathy for his inability to move on. Then again, I had to wonder why practically everyone can see him and/or feel his presence and, in some cases, even touch him physically?

Oh, I also liked a couple of characters named Sten and Marum but to tell you why would be to spoil things so I’ll say no more about them.

Anyhoo, I choose to look at this as a simple ghost story with some other elements thrown in to flesh out the tale and, as such, it was a few short hours nicely spent. I don’t regret the time 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.

A Handful of Teeny Reviews

The Fourth SecretThe Fourth Secret
An Inspector Montalbano Mystery
Andrea Camilleri
Mondadori/Open Road Integrated Media, November 2014ISBN 978-1-4976-8646-5
Ebook

From the publisher—

In the latest mystery featuring Inspector Montalbano, a deadly accident at a building site prompts a search with shocking revelations 

“Yesterday morning around seven thirty, an Albanian construction worker, age thirty-eight, Pashko Puka, a legal resident with a work permit, hired by the Santa Maria construction company owned by Alfredo Corso, fell from a scaffold that had been erected during the construction of an apartment building in Tonnarello, between Vigata and Montelusa. His coworkers, who immediately rushed to his aid, unfortunately discovered he had died.

There have been six events euphemistically called “tragedies in the workplace” in the past month. Six deaths caused by an inexplicable disregard for safety regulations. When the local magistrate opens an investigation, Inspector Montalbano is on the case. But Montalbano soon discovers that these seemingly unrelated incidents are only part of a larger network of crimes.

Over the years, I have enjoyed the Inspector Montalbano books but this novella really doesn’t stand up to the rest of the series. I found that puzzling because, while Montalbano doesn’t have the pleasing personality of, say, Commissario Guido Brunetti (Donna Leon’s protagonist) or Chief of Police Bruno (Martin Walker), he has never struck me as inept or unpleasant. This time he did.

I had an interest in the investigation from the beginning because of the questions surrounding a warning letter and, of all things, a pedicure, but the story was marred for me by two things, the overuse of profanity and the introduction of characters without any sort of explanation as to who they are or why most of them are surly and almost irrational. It felt as though this plotline was lifted from the middle of a full-length novel.

Then, the lightbulb went off. As it turns out, this was actually written years ago so the characters have not enjoyed the growth and evolution that they have when reading the series in order. The second and far more important problem is the translation from the original Italian. Most of the books are quite well done but the same can not be said of this and it is, in fact, a different translator. Sentences are choppy and sometimes make little sense and the translator did not have a thorough understanding of English. It’s just not a top-notch translation and there’s no doubt that hurts the reader’s reception of the characters and the plot.

In the end, while this is certainly not the worst thing I ever read, it’s not a good representation of the enjoyment to be found in the series as a whole. I’d suggest that anyone meeting Inspector Montalbano with this novella ignore it and start over with the first full-length book, The Shape of Water.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

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The Iggy ChroniclesThe Iggy Chronicles, Volume One
A Chet and Bernie Mystery eShort Story
Spencer Quinn
Atria Unbound/Atria Books, August 2013
ISBN 978-1-4767-0360-2
Ebook

From the publisher—

Iggy is a dog who doesn’t get out much, so it’s big news when elderly Mr. Parsons knocks on Bernie’s door to say that Iggy has vanished. In the search for Iggy, Chet and Bernie find Mrs. Parsons unconscious on her bedroom floor, in need of urgent medical care. But it’s only when they arrive at the hospital that things get really interesting.

With a jewel thief making short work of hospital patients’ valuables, it seems that Iggy is not alone in disappearing right out from under somebody’s nose. Suspects are plentiful and witnesses are few. But when little Iggy reappears, tail wagging, it turns out he holds the key to solving the entire affair.

There’s a pet food commercial on TV that features a number of dogs running and leaping. I don’t remember the name of the product but I love to watch the dogs and, every time I see it, I just naturally think of Chet because he takes such joy in life, the way those dogs look like they’re doing. Chet—and, of course, Bernie—are two of my favorite detectives and it’s always a treat to see them again.

This time, their neighbor dog (and Chet’s pal), Iggy, has disappeared and his owner is desperate to find him for his very ill wife. Bernie and Chet take on the job and soon find a second mystery to look into. Our heroes make short work of all this (after all, this IS a short story) and I was quite satisfied with this little visit with the guys.

Fair warning to those who count pages—this story takes up 24 0f the 45 pages and the rest is a blurb and excerpt of the following novel, The Sound and the Furry, along with a few other things.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

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AmbitionAmbition
A Perception Series Prequel
Lee Strauss
Elle Strauss, November 2012
Ebook

From the author—

AMBITION is a short story (5k) prequel to PERCEPTION, capturing the beginning of Noah and Zoe’s story from Noah’s POV.

Eighteen year old Noah Brody doesn’t like GAPs—Genetically Altered Persons. He’s taken up his dead father’s cause, speaking out and protesting against unfair GAP policies that are responsible for the massive social divide between wealthy GAPs and poorer naturals.

If only he could keep his mind off of perfect Zoe Vanderveen, daughter of the GAP family his mother works for.

And can he really fill his father’s shoes?

About a year and a half ago, I read and reviewed a book called Perception, first in a trilogy. It was a young adult dystopian but not at all typical of the subgenre. Usually, these stories revolve around a repressive society and an underlying resistance from the people being downtrodden. In this case, though, the tale centers on class division brought about be genetic alteration that gives a small portion of the populace distinct advantages in appearance, wealth, lifespan, etc. The two primary characters are Zoe, a GAP, and Noah, a natural. The two are worlds apart in status and privilege.

Ambition offers us a brief look at what Noah is all about and his ambivalence about the cause.  He has a near-hatred of the GAPs but how much of his feeling is “inherited” from his father who spoke out for justice and how much due to his beginning attraction to Zoe who doesn’t even remember his name? It reminded me of what I liked about this young man when I read Perception and these few pages have enticed me to get back to the trilogy as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

 

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The Chapel PerilousThe Chapel Perilous
A Tale of the Iron Druid Chronicles
Kevin Hearne
Kevin Hearne, January 2014
Previously published in Unfettered, 2013
ISBN 978-0-9914238-0-4
Ebook

From the author—

Ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan has had plenty of adventures during his long life, and in “The Chapel Perilous” he shares one of them with his apprentice, Granuaile. He lays out the true story of the quest for the Holy Grail, in which he was personally involved—and the events of which are quite different from the Christian tale most people know today.

While on an errand for Ogma to recover the Dagda’s Cauldron, Atticus confronts evil at a mysterious chapel, takes the first steps to becoming the Iron Druid, and learns the shocking truth about goblin fashion choices.

He was, of course, in terrible peril.

The adventures of Atticus and his faithful hound, Oberon, have entertained me mightily since the very first book, Hounded (although I’m a little less enthused with the most recent one, Shattered) and the accompanying novellas and short stories are always fun, too. The Chapel Perilous continues the tradition.

The whole idea of a Holy Grail that isn’t quite the same Holy Grail we all know about is wonderful, made even more so because it’s set way back before Atticus became the Iron Druid with so much power. There’s not a lot of Oberon in this story and, since I adore him, that made me a little sad at first but then this other critter shows up that had me laughing out loud.  Apple Jack is worth the story all by himself and, even if you’ve never read any of the chronicles, you can still enjoy this fellow.

Is this short story as engaging as the novels? No, of course not, as it’s not possible to have much depth in such a few pages but it’s a nice fill-in between books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

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Honor CodeHonor Code
Cathy Perkins
Cathy Perkins, December 2012
ISBN 978-1481035897
Trade Paperback

From the author—

In a small southern town where everyone knows each other’s business, veteran detective Larry Robbins must solve the disappearance of eighty-year-old widower George Beason.

When evidence arises that Beason may have left town on his own, it would be easy for Robbins to close the case, but his gut instinct tells him more’s at stake. As he uncovers clues about Beason’s deceased wife and his estranged daughter, Robbins must untangle conflicting motives and hidden agendas to bring Beason home alive.

A missing man, a murdered pet, a cop’s family issues, retribution—they’re all here in this novella, a standalone. When George Beason disappears and his home seems to have been ransacked, Detective Larry Robbins and his young partner, Jerry Jordan, are puzzled as to whether a crime has occurred or a slovenly old man has simply wandered off but there are enough unresolved questions to keep Robbins looking for answers. The daughter that should be concerned is much less than helpful and it’s hints that older crimes may come into play that draw Robbins and Jordan further into the investigation, even after Beason is caught on a security camera, apparently unharmed.

Reaching back into the past, to events in Baghdad, the author reminds us of how the past is never completely done and can have far-reaching effects many years later. At the same time, family honor sometimes takes precedence over all else but a not quite completely jaded cop can still make a difference in his community. It’s this aspect of Larry Robbins that drew me into the story more than the crimes themselves and I hope we’ll see more of him some day.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

Book Reviews: Dog Gone, Back Soon by Nick Trout, The Ashes That Remain by A.M. Griffin and The Whispers by Lisa Unger

Dog Gone, Back SoonDog Gone, Back Soon
Nick Trout
Hyperion, April 2014
ISBN 978-1-401-31089-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Dr. Cyrus Mills returned home after inheriting his estranged father’s veterinary practice, The Bedside Manor for Sick Animals, the last thing he wanted was to stay in Eden Falls, Vermont, a moment longer than absolutely necessary. However, the previously reclusive veterinarian pathologist quickly found that he actually enjoyed treating animals and getting to know the eccentric residents of the tiny provincial town-especially an alluring waitress named Amy.

So Cyrus is now determined to make Bedside Manor thrive. Not an easy goal, given that Healthy Paws, the national veterinary chain across town, will stop at nothing to crush its mom-and-pop competitor. And the rival vet practice isn’t Cyrus’s only competition; a handsome stranger shows up out of nowhere who clearly has a mysterious past with Amy. To top it off, Cyrus finds himself both the guardian of a very unique orphaned dog and smack in the middle of serious small town drama.

 

I’m a pushover for veterinarian stories, fiction or nonfiction, no matter where they take place, and Dog Gone, Back Soon filled the bill quite nicely indeed. It’s funny; I know I’m going to get essentially the same tale every time but that never feels same old same old like it does in other books. I include country (human) doctor and small town minister stories in the same bag—they’re all what I call comfort fiction and nonfiction and, basically, they can do very little wrong in my eyes. When it comes to veterinarian authors, James Herriot is the gold standard for me, and Nick Trout has followed in his footsteps in a lovely way.

The cynical Cyrus is a guy I could relate to, feeling guilt over the way he and his father spent recent years but intent on bringing his dad’s practice back from the brink of failure without destroying its appeal to local animal lovers. I found myself rooting him on in his efforts, especially as he begins to realize how much it means to him and that he really does love this small town and its four-legged and two-legged citizens.

A bit of romance is not out of order and there’s a gentle humor about the troubled path of love between him and Amy. Still, it’s Cyrus’s battles against the “evil” conglomerate and his growing attachment to a Labradoodle service dog named Stash that truly drew me in.

I hold out my hand in front of Stash’s mouth. “Stash, lick.” Nothing. “Stash, lick.” Not a flicker in his eyes. Either this is not in hisrepertoire or, more likely, I’m using the wrong language.

“Stash, pucker up.”

No dice.

“Stash, kiss.”

The world goes black as sixty pounds of dog leaps onto my chest and begins coating every exposed surface of my skin with a shellac of saliva from a serpentine tongue.

“Stash, sit, Stash, sit.”

It’s as if the feeding frenzy never happened, Stash calm and distant, me dripping drool and panting.

Stash probably should be on the cover but the English Mastiff, Tallulah, is his first patient so that’s OK. My other favorite stars of the show were an obese cat named Marmalade Succabone , a cow named Ermintrude and a taxidermied dog named Crispin. I was also more than a bit fond of a pair of teens named Charlie Brown and Gabe Stiles and office manager Doris.

Dog Gone, Back Soon is the sequel to The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs. Since I now have to claim Dr. Trout as one of my favorite authors, I’m heading over to get Patron Saint just as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

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The Ashes That RemainThe Ashes That Remain
Cimmerian Moon #2
A.M. Griffin
Three Twenty-One, August 2014
Ebook
From the author—

We’re at war against the aliens that have invaded Earth, fighting the only way we can—by surviving. I have more than most people do, but although I know it’s stupid to hold on, I can’t let go of what might have been—can’t help dreaming of something more. No matter how I tell myself it would be easier to do what everyone else wants me to, there’s a part of me that can’t give in.
Making the best of the situation is one thing. Settling, even to make other people happy, is something else.

Then we hear the alien mother ships have disappeared. Of course we have to go and investigate. What we find lands us in a huge mess that we somehow have to clean up and, as our little enclave is rocked to the core with even more changes, I’m learning a hard lesson.

The more things change—for the better or the worse—there’s no fighting human nature, and building on the ashes that remain will take everything we have. And maybe more.

 

I mentioned in my earlier review of Against the Darkness that worldbuilding was somewhat lacking but that didn’t impede my enjoyment of the novel. The same lack continues in this second book but it mostly revolves around not knowing what the aliens are really here for; we know much more this time about how our small band of humans is surviving, actually thriving in some ways.

Time hasn’t passed much since we left Sinta and her companions at the end of Against the Darkness but there has been a distinct change in the teens, a maturing that only dire circumstances can bring about. Sinta and Mia are still thick as thieves and Ian, Wade, Jason and MJ are as likeable as I remembered them but their travails have turned them into thoughtful and self-reliant young adults who have melded into a community with little trouble. in fact, were it not for the aliens, Iife would be fairly decent. However, the lizards are still around and, when disaster strikes, some of the crew sets out on a rescue mission fraught with peril from rats and the cold as well as the lizards. Most puzzling is the recent news that the alien population may be thinning out.

Romance plays a much larger role in this second book but an amusing passage about the Sinta-Wade-Jason love triangle with 10-year-old Brook and teens Lexi, Sinta and Mia in the cafeteria helps make said triangle a little more palatable. Mia makes fun of the drama, as I have done in my own thoughts, and Brook gazes off with her dreamy musings about an “older man” named MJ.

As with the first book, it’s unfortunate that this book is riddled with construction errors, primarily typos and incorrect word choices, but I’m still completely engaged and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, In Danger’s Embrace, coming this winter.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

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The WhispersThe Whispers
A Whispers Story #1
Lisa Unger
Pocket Star, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-4767-9778-6
Ebook

From the publisher—

It’s a day like any other for Eloise Montgomery—until tragedy strikes. While she is recovering from a horrible accident that takes the lives of her husband and oldest daughter, and as she works to help her younger daughter move forward, Eloise experiences her first psychic vision. Though she struggles to understand her newfound gifts, Eloise finds a way use them to save lost women and girls—for whom her help may be the only way out…

 

Lisa Unger is one of my go-to authors when I’m in the mood for a thriller, something intense and nail-biting, a book that will keep me up at night. She does it so very, very well  😉 but The Whispers really doesn’t fit  the mold. The first of three short stories that comprise a novella, this is more of the psychological suspense sort and I was not the least bit disappointed.

After the tragic deaths of her husband and elder daughter, Eloise is nearly crushed emotionally and, yet, she’s strong enough to stay focused on her younger daughter, Amanda, who may not be suffering physically but is just as wracked with survivor’s guilt. When Eloise begins to have psychic visions, she’s naturally confused and disturbed but she’s driven to pass the information about these missing girls and women on to the authorities. Why is she hearing whispers and “seeing” these people in extreme distress? We don’t really know—perhaps more answers will be forthcoming in the next two short stories—but the true essence here is how the four lived a life of love and normalcy and then what’s left after the accident. It’s a compelling tale and I’m looking forward to the second story, The Burning Girl, due out in late November.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.