Book Review: Vacation by JC Miller

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Title: Vacation
Author: JC Miller
Narrator: Curt Simmons
Publisher: JC Miller Writer
Publication Date: July 14, 2017

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Vacation
JC Miller
Narrated by Curt Simmons
JC Miller Writer, July 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

Dr. William Koval, a pragmatist with little faith in humanity, prefers to dwell in the eerily comforting microscopic realm, where he is master of his domain. But his worldview is upended when he decides to go on the English walking tour his wife had been planning before her murder three years earlier. Only when William confronts his past, including his troubled marriage, will he find a way to rejoin the living, to move forward, and perhaps love again. The real journey, he discovers, lies within.

In many ways, William is a stereotypical research physician but those close to him know he isn’t coping well with the death of his wife; rather than moving on with his life, he’s withdrawn and finds comfort in solitude. He would be content, if not happy, to be left alone but, fortunately for him, there are a few people who care enough about his wellbeing to force him to take a step forward.

A walking tour through the English countryside doesn’t seem too onerous at first, even though William isn’t used to this sort of thing or with spending time with a group of strangers, some of whom are intent on being chummy. Their Irish tour guide is a funny sort of guy who’s suspiciously inept at this and a couple of his fellow walkers are a bit irritating. Still, it’s only for a few days and William has to admit he’s feeling a kind of relaxation he didn’t expect. When a woman named Annie begins to touch his heart, he’s unprepared and, at first, resistant and when he does let himself feel again, he and Annie come up against an unbearable barrier.

Vacation is what I call a love story rather than a romance because there’s more depth to the feelings between these two and it seemed quite organic, if you will. The twist in the story bothered me some, first because I thought it was way too predictable but also because it just seems so unnecessary and I think tension could have been created in a less sensational manner. Despite that, I enjoyed this story a great deal.

A lot of my enjoyment came from the wonderful narration by Curt Simmons. I don’t think I’ve heard him before but his voice is one of the best I’ve come across with his smooth, even tones that tell the story with distinct vocalizations and a comfortable quality that makes me want to keep listening. Ms. Miller wrote a really good story; Mr. Simmons brought William and all the other characters to life.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

About the Author

JC (Jeanne) Miller is a freelance essayist, the author of five novels, including  the best-seller, Vacation. An avid reader, aspiring traveler and table tennis enthusiast, JC resides in Northern California.

  • Writer
  • Table tennis enthusiast
  • Lover of silly animal videos

Website // Facebook // Twitter

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About the Narrator

Curt lives in Seattle and produces and narrates audiobooks in his home studio. He began his performing career in college as a stage actor and radio personality. After college, in addition to acting, Curt also did voiceovers for commercials, which he also wrote, directed, and edited for broadcast TV. Following the birth of his daughter in 1984, he left the performing arts to pursue a more “stable” profession managing projects. Then, in 2014 he returned to the professional stage for the first time in over 30 years as Walter Flood in Becky’s New Car by Stephen Dietz. He has also appeared recently as Lyman in Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz and Ralph in The Last Romance by Joseph DiPietro. Vacation is Curt’s eighth audiobook.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Goodreads // SoundCloud

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Play an excerpt here.

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Aug. 13th:
Lomeraniel (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Giveaway)
CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)

Aug. 14th:
Buried Under Books (Review)
Dab of Darkness (Review, Giveaway)

Aug. 15th:
Jazzy Book Reviews (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Author Interview, Giveaway)

Aug. 16th:
Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)
WTF Are You Reading? (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Giveaway)
The Literary Apothecary (Review)

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The Bookworm Lodge (Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)

Aug. 18th:
The Book Addict’s Reviews (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt, Music Playlist)
Bean’s Bookshelf and Coffee Break (Review)

Aug. 19th:
Lynn’s Romance Enthusiasm (Review, Spotlight + Audio Excerpt)

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Open internationally! Runs August 13th – 20th.

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Book Review: When I’m Gone by Emily Bleeker—and a giveaway!

When I'm GoneWhen I’m Gone
Emily Bleeker
Lake Union Publishing, March 2016
ISBN 978-1503953383
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Dear Luke,
First let me say—I love you…I didn’t want to leave you…

Luke Richardson has returned home after burying Natalie, his beloved wife of sixteen years, ready to face the hard job of raising their three children alone. But there’s something he’s not prepared for—a blue envelope with his name scrawled across the front in Natalie’s handwriting, waiting for him on the floor of their suburban Michigan home.

The letter inside, written on the first day of Natalie’s cancer treatment a year ago, turns out to be the first of many. Luke is convinced they’re genuine, but who is delivering them? As his obsession with the letters grows, Luke uncovers long-buried secrets that make him question everything he knew about his wife and their family. But the revelations also point the way toward a future where love goes on—in written words, in memories, and in the promises it’s never too late to keep.

This book has everything going for it: a heart-tugging widower, a mystery to be solved (actually, more than one although they’re not the kind you find in mystery novels, strictly speaking), family secrets to be revealed, a promise of hope for the future. There are surprises both good and not so much so and it’s clear that Natalie truly cared for her husband and children. It was—and still is—a loving family and the secrets that are revealed towards the end are maddening as well as sad. Why, then, didn’t I connect with this story as much as I should have?

When I’m Gone is beautifully written and the characters are vividly drawn but I think perhaps it was a wrong choice for me. Truthfully, there is nothing actually wrong with it and I think most other readers will really appreciate it whereas I just never was emotionally invested and that may be partially because I find the idea of these letters coming for such a long time kind of unhealthy for those who are left behind. It seems to me that the healing process is dragged out much longer than is natural and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. One heartfelt letter, yes; a string of them, maybe not.

When I think about the story Ms. Bleeker has given us, I’m quite sure my reaction isn’t fair but I also believe I understand it. I had five deaths to cope with in 2015 and, by the end of the year, I was continually on edge wondering what horrible thing would be happening next. Perhaps it’s too soon for me to read a tale like this one because my own emotions are still fragile. Because of that, I fully intend to read this again when I’m more receptive and I’m pretty darned sure I’m going to love it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

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About the Author

Emily Bleeker 2Emily Bleeker is a former educator who discovered her passion for writing after introducing a writer’s workshop to her students. She soon found a whole world of characters and stories living inside of her mind. It took a battle with a rare form of cancer to give her the courage to share that amazing world with others. Emily lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and four kids. Between writing and being a mom, she attempts to learn guitar, sings along to the radio (loudly), and embraces her newfound addiction to running. Connect with her or request a Skype visit with your book club at emilybleeker.wordpress.com.

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of When I’m Gone by Emily
Bleeker, leave a comment below.
The winning name will be drawn
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Book Review: Long Way Down by Michael Sears

Long Way DownLong Way Down
A Jason Stafford Novel #3
Michael Sears
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, February 2015
ISBN: 978-0-399-16671-6
Hardcover

Dark, turbulent and dangerous waters of high finance, inventive genius, and cunning power grabs are all at play in this taut, modern thriller. Well-written crime novels contain at least three important elements: a strong interesting plot, intriguing well-defined characters and persistent forward thrust.

Some display other attributes that keep readers turning pages, such as good dialogue and good descriptive narrative that draws the reader into the story so that we almost experience the action along with the characters. Long Way Down contains all of these as strong, well-written elements.

In addition, the author has achieved an excellent balance between his protagonist’s professional life and attitudes and his need and desire to be a father in close attendance to his autistic son. A widower and an ex-con, former Wall street trader, Jason Stafford is now a free-lance fraud finder. His ability to tease out secrets and point an accurate accusatory finger at perpetrators of various sins against the SEC and American investors is becoming well-known on the Street and he’s making pots of money. His job also allows him the flexibility to help raise his young autistic son. There are several moving, penetrating scenes in the novel which inform and illustrate, not only physical relationships between the two, but psychological as well.

Jack Haley, a brilliant engineer, is nearing a break-through in his development of a cheap and viable biofuel. He is abruptly indicted for insider trading. Naturally he denies it and Stafford, brought in by one of Haley’s investors to root out the truth, believes Haley. Unraveling the complicated plot requires a good deal of computer research, travel around the US and ducking by Stafford a wide-spread net of killers. In between some truly clever ruses, Stafford is desperate to maintain a good relationship with his son and new girlfriend. This becomes more and more hazardous as the net tightens.

Readers will surely ride with Jason Stafford, agonize with him over several moral issues, and be relieved they are not called on to guard Stafford’s back. This novel is a masterful thrilling experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2015.
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: Vanishing Acts by Philip Margolin and Ami Margolin Rome

Vanishing ActsVanishing Acts 
A Madison Kincaid Mystery #1
Philip Margolin and Ami Margolin Rome
Harper, October 2011
ISBN 978-0-06-188556-3
Hardcover

Madison Kincaid is a precocious athletic seventh-grader in the Portland public schools as the novel opens. Her widower dad is a top criminal attorney and Madison spends a lot of time alone or with her best buddy, Ann. They have been soccer teammates for years and Madison is upset when Ann is a no-show for team tryouts.

Meanwhile, her dad is hired to defend the husband of Madison’s second-grade teacher against a charge of murder. Coincidental? A bit of a stretch in some of Madison’s actions? Sure, but this story is engaging, the kids and their voices are real and the plot moves along smartly. It’s easy to see that the senior member of this writing team paid close attention to the advice of his daughter.

Not only does Madison enlist a new school friend named Jake to help her solve her dad’s latest case, she figures out how to learn what has happened to her best bud, Ann. There’s sufficient tension, the kids don’t stray too far into dangerous territory and the writing is excellent.

I enjoyed the story and the action and although readers should note that it’s not a lengthy novel, it’s well worth the price and an afternoon’s reading.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2014.
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 Reviews: A Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames and Live and Let Fly by Karina L. Fabian

A Killing at Cotton HillA Killing at Cotton Hill
A Samuel Craddock Mystery
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, July 2013
ISBN 978-1-61614-799-0
Trade Paperback

Retired police chief Samuel Craddock is forced to step in when his friend Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered. Rodell, the present police chief of the small Texas town isn’t good for much except drinking and womanizing–mostly with the wrong woman–and is fond of taking the easy way out. In this case, he arrests the dead woman’s grandson, Greg, who lives on the farm with her. Why? Because he’s there. The evidence, let alone any  kind of motive, is lacking.

Samuel is still working through the loss of his dearly beloved wife, and finally taking an interest in outside things. This includes a casual friendship with Loretta, and a renewed passion for art. While trying not to let Rodell know what he’s up to, when he begins investigating Dora Lee’s death, he soon discovers her grandson is an extremely talented artist. It’s this talent, in part, that makes Samuel decide to take the case on. During the investigation, he becomes friends with attorney Jenny Sandstone, whom I feel certain we’ll see more of in the next Samuel Craddock mystery.

Samuel’s investigation places him right in the murderer’s headlights. His house, and his art collection, amassed with his dead wife, is nearly destroyed via an arsonist’s fire. Instead of discouraging the former policeman, the damage only makes him more determined to find the killer.

The plot moves right along. We get to know Samuel as a determined, dutiful man who isn’t quite ready to hang up his lawman’s hat, after all. All the characters are well-drawn, both the small-town folks, and the potential killers. A fine line to walk, that author Terry Shames manages very well indeed.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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Live and Let FlyLive and Let Fly
Karina L. Fabian
MuseItUp Publishing, April 2012
Ebook

Vern wasn’t your ordinary PI. For a start he was a dragon…and has a nun for a sidekick…and he lives in Los Lagos, Colorado. These days, he tries to solve crime rather than eating optimistic knights who really should have known better. But something’s come up. There’s a damsel in distress, a cataclysmic disaster about to unfold and Vern and Sister Grace are the only ones who can stop it. Will they save the world and prevent the next Ragnarok? Will they rescue the damsel and make it out alive? And most importantly, who’s going to sign off on their expenses?

I confess that the idea of a dragon being a successful PI is not an idea I thought I would have readily accepted. I was even more sceptical when I continually heard Vern talking like Jimmy Stewart in a ‘now look here see?’ kind of way. It reads like the old film noir classics where characters explained themselves to the camera and jazz music plinked in the background. But I guess that says more about me than it does about the book.

This is a decent enough title if you’re not averse to cliché filled prose and ridiculous setups. It is essentially a crime novel with an added element of fantasy thrown in but I felt that the book was too long winded to be truly enjoyable. I found myself willing pages to turn not because I wanted to know what happened, but more to just get to the end of the thing. It felt like it took me a fortnight to read and in fact, it did take a fortnight before I got through it all. If this were heavily edited, with most of the unnecessary scenes taken out, it would make for a much faster paced title. As it is however, it rather becomes an exercise in ‘goodness, what now?’ exasperation as you lurch from one disaster to another. While there are many humorous parts and some tongue-in-cheek references to religion, the book ended up being too cumbersome for my liking. A brave effort but unfortunately, this is one title that will not survive the dragon’s gaze.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, June 2013.

Book Reviews: Cut, Paste, Kill by Marshall Karp, Long Gone by Alafair Burke, Before the Poison by Peter Robinson, and A Darker Shade of Blue by John Harvey

Cut, Paste, Kill
Marshall Karp
Minotaur Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-37824-0
Trade Paperback

A woman, the wife of the British consul in Los Angeles, is found stabbed to death in the ladies room of a posh hotel, a scrapbook recalling her transgression, killing a young boy leaving a school bus while DWI, nearby.  Lomax and Biggs, the comic LAPD homicide detectives, catch the call. Then they learn that the FBI has been investigating two other murders with identical MO’s for the previous two weeks.  Each victim was guilty of some offense but had escaped punishment for one reason or another.  And we have the makings of another serial murder mystery.

Additional murders take place, and the wisecracking detectives, teamed up with the FBI, are hard-pressed to solve the case.  Meanwhile, Lomax and his girlfriend are pre-occupied with caring for a precocious seven-year-old girl when her mother has to go to China to tend to her dying parent, and Biggs volunteers to write a screenplay based on a concept of Lomax’ dad (two ex-cops driving an 18-wheeler and solving crimes on the road, entitled “Semi-Justice”).

Not only is the humor twisted, but so is the plot, which keeps the reader twisting with every unanticipated turn in the story.  The one-liners come often enough to take the hard edge off a grisly subject and a detailed police procedural.  A welcome addition to the series, in which this is the fourth entry, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Long Gone
Alafair Burke
Harper, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-061-99918-5
Hardcover

The author has written six previous novels, but this is her first standalone, so her familiar characters and themes do not apply. Nevertheless, she has demonstrated an ability to take an idea and run with it, in this case two separate themes with some common threads.

The main plot involves Alice Humphrey, daughter of a famous motion picture director and his Academy Award-winning wife.  Somewhat estranged from her father, and wishing to demonstrate her independence, she presently is unemployed when a “dream” job falls into her lap.  It turns out to be part of a plot against her and her dad, but that is as far as we should go in divulging the plot.  A subplot involves a missing teenager.  The commonality of the two themes involves the effects of the relationships between the mother of the missing girl and Alice and the law enforcement personnel with whom each is involved.  Enough said.

Ms. Burke has amply demonstrated in the past her knowledge of the law and the various people involved in enforcing it, and this novel shows her insights into how detectives go about their business.  Here empathy for the female characters is obvious, but the male characters seem to be stereotypes.  On the whole, however, the novel is an excellent read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Before the Poison
Peter Robinson
Hodder & Stoughton, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-444-70483-9
Hardcover
Also available in the US from William Morrow & Company, February 2012

Diverting his attention from the popular and successful Inspector Banks series, the author has written a murder mystery of a different genre.  Instead of a police procedural, he has undertaken to use a variety of literary devices to unravel the truth behind a death that took place sixty years ago.

It begins when Chris Lowndes, reeling from the death of his wife, decides to buy a home on the Yorkshire Dales.  He purchases Kilnsgate House, a large, bleak, isolated structure in which he hopes to recover from his depression, and, perhaps write a sonata instead of the incidental music for motion pictures which he did for many years on the West Coast of the US.  No sooner does he take possession than he becomes haunted by its past: Grace Fox, the former owner, was accused and convicted of poisoning her husband, a respected local physician.  And she was hanged for it.

Chris becomes so obsessed that he endeavors to “discover” the truth, initially convinced that she was innocent of the charge.  The author leads the reader (and Chris) from supposition to fact, alternating excerpts of Grace’s wartime diary (she was a nurse, first in Singapore, then escaping the Japanese, suffering a series of devastating experiences, finally serving in France before returning to her husband at Kilnsgate House) and various interviews with aged characters, including her younger lover now living in Paris and a man who as a seven-year-old lived with the Foxes for a time as an evacuee at the beginning of World War II.

The shifts in the plot, as Chris conducts his “investigation,” are truly ingenious, keeping the reader off balance to a fare-thee-well.  The characters are well-drawn, and the author undertook deep research to create Grace’s diary.  While the novel may seem at times somewhat dry and slow to read, it constantly draws the reader forward and is well worth reading, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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A Darker Shade of Blue
John Harvey
Pegasus, February 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60598-284-7
Hardcover

Of the 18 short stories in this collection, four feature Charlie Resnick, seven north London detective Jack Kiley, and one in which they both appear.  Each, of course, is a well-known protagonist featured in prior John Harvey novels.  And their characters come through even more strongly in a short story.

As Mr. Harvey writes in an introduction, the short story form gives an author greater latitude to experiment with an idea or character to learn whether or not use can be made later in the novel format.  The extremely well-written, well-constructed short stories are a prime example of that observation.

Not lost in the shuffle is Harvey‘s fascination with the world of jazz, nor his descriptions of London and outlying areas, especially the more depressing aspects of English life and the world of crime.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.