Book Review: Before It’s Too Late

Before It's Too Late by Jane IsaacThis was another book I received via my Netgalley membership–and was thrilled to have a chance at, since Isaac’s debut novel, An Unfamiliar Murder had been such an unexpected treat. This one did not disappoint. Once again, the reader is pulled into an emotionally complex world in which stressed detectives work against the pressure of a ticking incident clock as well as their own past traumas.

I concentrated hard, desperately listening for something familiar, the sound of life. I heard nothing. Just my own breaths and the wind, whistling through branches above. . . . The thought made me shiver. I am buried alive.

Following an argument with her British boyfriend, Chinese student Min Li is abducted while walking the dark streets of picturesque Stratford-upon-Avon alone. Trapped in a dark pit, Min is at the mercy of her captor. Detective Inspector Will Jackman is tasked with solving the case and in his search for answers discovers that the truth is buried deeper than he ever expected. But, as another student vanishes and Min grows ever weaker, time is running out. Can Jackman track down the kidnapper, before it’s too late?

The characters are different from those in her first story, but feel familiar. A DI who’s trying to prove he still has the chops to resolve the case before it turns into a murder. A victim who is given a voice. And the parallel between the investigator’s personal trials and the case they are working on. It all works. My heart broke for DI Jackman early in the story with this emotionally real description:

He fidgeted in his seat. Her words conjured up images of those awkward moments when he’d returned to work after the car accident that had reduced his wife to a permanent comatose state a year ago. Some colleagues shuffled in their shoes, dug their hands in their pockets when they enquired after Alice’s health. Others made a beeline for him with their head tilts and soppy eyes. A few avoided him altogether, unsure of what to say. The answer was always the same, “No change.” Because there never was any change.

The memories made his stomach dip. It wasn’t that he was cold-hearted. He knew everyone meant well, but the last thing he wanted to talk about at work, his one area of respite, was his wife’s tragic situation.

I was prepared for Isaac’s engaging style this time, but not for how compelling it is to have the victim speaking in her own voice at intervals during the police investigation. The twists and turns had me reading as quickly as possible to figure out whodunnit. For anyone who like police procedurals, suspense thrillers, and mysteries, I can highly recommend this latest from Jane Isaac.

Book Review: The Day Before

day-beforeI’ve reviewed other books by Liana Brooks (Fey Lights, and Even Villains Fall in Love) and follow her socks on Twitter, so I was lucky enough last week to get the opportunity to win an ARC of her latest release (HAPPY RELEASE DAY!), The Day Before. I kept telling myself I was only going to read just one more chapter, but in the end, the only reason I took a break at all was because hungry puppies will not countenance a book addiction.

😀

Over the past year, I’ve seen Brooks reference “Jane Doe” periodically (and honestly wasn’t sure that what she was describing in 140-character snippets was exactly my cup of tea), so didn’t know much else about the book when I received the ARC.  Given the body in chapter 1, it was evident pretty quickly that this was a mystery. Given the references to clones and legislation about them, it was also obvious that this was a sci-fi story set in the near future, when the U.S. has been absorbed into the Commonwealth of North America. I’m a fan of both genres, so she hooked me quickly with the premise that only certain kinds of bodies are worthy of a murder investigation.

Brooks has taken her world-building to a whole new level with this first installment in her Jane Doe series. I’m completely in love with the fictitious quotes from future selves of characters both in and outside the narrative that start the chapters:

Picture a wave, it crests and collapses without losing anything. There is energy. So much energy! Time is much the same, choice creates energy, the energy crests into a wave of possibility, a thousand iterations rising, but in the end, the water returns to the ocean. The prime iteration is stable. In the end, all possibilities lead to our reality.

The characters, especially Agents Samantha (Sam) Rose and Linsey MacKensie (Mac) of the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation (CBI), are both flawed as well as people readers will be anxious to get to know over the course of the narrative. Brooks takes on prejudice on multiple levels, with race and clones being the two convenient targets for her characters to have conversations like this one:

A basic Hispanic face, nothing out of the ordinary, but disconcerting in its similarity to what Sam saw in the mirror every morning. She grimaced as the computer added wavy black hair and a dark skin tint. Sam surreptitiously glanced at the ME to see if he was smirking. Both the men stared at her face on the screen without recognition.

“Wetback?” Marrins harrumphed. “Looks like a friend of yours, Rose. You know her?”

“I was born in Toronto, sir, and not all people who look Hispanic actually know each other.”

“She looks familiar,” Marrins said. “Think I saw a whore with that face back in Texas once.”

“Not all Hispanics look alike, sir, but it’s an easy mistake to make. All white people looked the same to me until I took the bureau’s sensitivity course about racial differences in the workplace.” Her commentary sailed over Marrins’s bald head with room to spare.

Everything about the story gripped me–the speculation about the nature of time and personhood, the way the story unfolded, and the world-building. I’m glad the book is available starting today, so more people can enjoy how Brooks has made a successful mash-up of the sci-fi and mystery genres, and I’m very much looking forward to the next two installments in the series. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes either genre, since the bad-guy reveal is equally balanced between both–and very satisfying to the reader. This is one I’ll be re-reading with particular attention to the chapter introduction quotes and the details that got thrown under the bus as I raced through the narrative to figure out whodunnit.

Book Review: Zombie Candy

Zombie CandyAs you will have guessed from my “lazy” posts earlier this week, I’m participating in Novel Publicity’s promotional tour for Frederick Lee Brooke’s latest book, Zombie Candy. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to read the thing, since I’m decidedly not a zombie fan–I don’t like gore in any format. But I’m also a sucker for a free book, and this one’s description had enough to it that I was willing to give it a try. In fact, all the descriptions indicated that it was more of a dark parody of the horror trope than an homage to it. From the book description:

You know early on, from the color of the inappropriate bra in the opening scene, that Zombie Candy is going to be a black comedy. Most people could sympathize with the male obsession for sex and zombie movies, but who would put up with a husband who doused every dish with cilantro?

Weaving elements of mystery, horror, and romance in a story that starts in Chicago and ends in a quaint medieval town in sun-drenched Tuscany, Zombie Candy transcends any single genre. Embark on a journey that will tickle your taste buds and wake up your funny bone. What are you waiting for?

I didn’t realize when I picked it up that it was actually the second in the series, and as I read the first chapter I had to flip back to the cover a few times to confirm that Annie Ogden was supposed to be the protagonist in the story. Much of the story is told from her best friend Candace Roach’s perspective:

Her lying, cheating husband ducked. The eagle connected with the granite fireplace behind him and exploded into a thousand pieces. She looked around for something else to throw.
“Candace, are you crazy? Do you know what that cost?” He sprang up from the couch, moving toward her, arms out, ready to block any other projectiles.
She felt the tears coming. “I don’t care what it cost. It didn’t even cost anything. It was a wedding present.” He was mumbling apologies, repeating himself. She ignored his meaningless words. She felt like she was giving birth. She had never had a baby, but this was what it must feel like, your body ripping open, unimaginable pain. He was trying to hug her while her body opened up and exploded with primal screams, screams that were silent and internal but screams with teeth and eyes and burning fire. She struggled and tried to push him away.
“How could you cheat on me, Larry? What does it say? What does it mean for us? What’s going on with us?”
“We’re fine, Candace. It means nothing. I’m sorry. I’m sorry it happened.”

In fact, there isn’t much mystery to that mystery: We know from the opening scene that Larry is likely to have been a serial cheater, so as the evidence mounts, and the stakes escalate, the reader is swept along on a speculative “what will she do next” wave. The interesting structure and alternating viewpoints to the book put the reader in the middle of a triangle of secrets: Annie’s, Candace’s, and Larry’s. The journey to unravel those and the resulting transformative epiphany make the dark humor and personal growth an enjoyable ride for the reader.

Not to say there weren’t some confusing elements. It wasn’t entirely clear why we were being treated to Candace’s flashbacks to her time in Italy, nor even the source of Larry’s obsession with zombie movies. In some ways those detours deflated the pacing of the tale. And other reviews and the preview description of the story in no way prepared me for the sudden escalation of the stomach-churning ick-factor that was the climactic portion of the book. On a day when I was already queasy, those hyper-real descriptions of decaying flesh were almost enough to overset me.

And yet, I was completely invested in the emotional journey. There had been suggestive passages about the emotional carnage an incipient divorce brings with it, so the parallelism was an effective literary device. And I was intrigued to discover that there are actual Zombie Candies available for purchase online (which will make you laugh more, when you read that scene in the book):

For anyone who is looking for a darkly humorous yet realistic view of the emotional journey through the destruction of a marriage, this book covers the essentials effectively. I would recommend this to anyone who appreciates a psychological journey of a story, and doesn’t mind some graphic gore. The second half, focusing on the “reindoctrination of Larry Roach, liar, cheat and sex addict” is where the real irony kicks in and earns the book the giggle-worthy humor that allows me to recommend this to anyone who enjoys dark distraction with a laugh. The bonus recipes at the very end look mouth-watering enough to make the book worthwhile to any interested cook, as well. Certainly, while it’s on sale, you can’t go wrong for spending $.99 of your entertainment dollar on this cautionary tale sprinkled with a nice set of tasty morsels.

🙂


As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Zombie Candy eBook edition is just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include $550 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copy of Zombie Candy for just 99 cents
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event

About the book:  Weaving elements of mystery, horror and romance in a hilarious romp that starts in Chicago and ends in a quaint medieval town in sun-drenched Tuscany, Zombie Candy is a genre-hopping knee-slapper of a novel. Get it on Amazon.

About the author: Frederick Lee Brooke has worked as an English teacher, language school manager and small business owner and has travelled extensively in Tuscany, the setting of part of Zombie Candy. Visit Fred on his website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads accounts.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Excerpt: Zombie Candy

This week’s posts come to you courtesy Novel Publicity, where author Frederick Lee Brooke is getting a little help promoting his latest effort–while I take a little bit of a breather and try to catch up with my Camp NaNoWriMo commitment.

😉

 

Please enjoy this excerpt from Zombie Candy, a genre-bending mystery by Frederick Lee Brooke. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including $550 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

 

They sit at long tables under grape arbors. Heavy bunches of grapes hang from the vines. An eight-piece dance band in white tuxes and black bow ties plays tunes from every decade. Heavy silver dessert forks and coffee spoons rest untouched on the linen tablecloth. She can’t eat another bite. All the glasses, at least, she has used: white wine, red wine, water.

A light breeze comes up. It feels heavenly on her face. With nightfall, the heat has gone out of the air. The heat must be trapped in these old stone walls — the walls of the farmhouse, the walls surrounding the vineyard. The aroma of fresh herbs floats from a nearby garden, rosemary, and mint, she thinks as she watches people dancing. The bride, her beautiful white dress with the daring silk bodice; the groom’s parents, a man with close-cropped gray hair and a red rose in his lapel, and his wife in a shimmering blue dress that looks specially made by an Italian designer.

She keeps one eye on the young man in the navy suit with the green silk tie. He looks like something Michelangelo might have sculpted, then breathed life into. This young man knows everyone here, and has danced every dance for the last hour. But he’s dancing with both older and younger women, probably cousins, friends, the mothers of cousins and friends. She has no idea who he is.

She feels outclassed in her red silk dress from Bloomingdale’s. She had worn the same dress at a wedding in June in Chicago. No one here has ever seen it. If there are any more weddings this fall, she will just have to go shopping in Siena or even Florence, that’s all there is to it.

“May I have this dance?”

Like a vision, Michelangelo man stands beside her. Has somebody cast a magic spell here? How did he sneak up on her like that? She didn’t even notice the song had ended. Or that another one had started.

“I’m not much of a dancer.”

“We’ll see.” He tugs her hand.

“Really, you don’t have to.” He obviously feels a duty to make sure every woman in the place gets at least one dance.

“Of course I don’t have to. I’ve danced with all the women I was obligated to dance with. Now I want to dance with you.”

She doesn’t need more arm-twisting than this. He leads her to the dance floor. The band is playing a quiet song from the 1940s, she thinks, something familiar. Grape arbors surround the dance floor and fill the air with sweet perfume. He turns and puts one hand around her waist. “My name is Giancarlo,” he says, switching to Italian.

“Candace,” she says. “I’ve been here for three weeks. I can’t believe I’m at this beautiful wedding.”

“Your Italian is marvelous.”

Your lips are marvelous, she thinks. Your curly hair, the color of black coffee, and your handsome chiseled face are marvelous too. But you can’t say such things to a man you’ve never met before. Not in Tuscany. At least not before the end of the first dance. He glides around the floor, leading her with slight shifts in his weight, slight pressure with his hands. Her feet know where to go, just as her mouth knows how to form the words.

“We don’t have weddings like this in Chicago. The food … the music … the grapes.”

“My uncle’s house is nice,” Giancarlo agrees. “But I am sorry for Lucia. She has married a playboy. I do not think they will be happy.”

“They certainly look happy.”

Giancarlo makes a face. “I should not talk about the details. I know him. I’ve known him all my life, and he will never change. I tried to talk to my cousin, but she is in love and blind. What can we do?”

Giancarlo’s smile, Candace realizes, has a hypnotizing effect. Thank God a fast dance is starting, the Bee Gees. He makes no attempt to bring her back to the table, merely releases his hold on her waist.

“You are a beautiful dancer,” he says when the Bee Gees song ends. The band takes a break. Everyone is leaving the dance floor. Her heart sinks. Somehow she has managed to cling to him for two dances, something no woman before her had managed. Now he will bring her back to her table, his duty done. He will go back to his people.

“Thank you for the lovely dances.”

“Come, let’s get some fresh air. I’ll show you around,” Giancarlo says. And the really amazing thing is he doesn’t let go of her hand.


As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Zombie Candy eBook edition is just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include $550 in Amazon gift cards, a Kindle Fire, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copy of Zombie Candy for just 99 cents
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event

About the book: Weaving elements of mystery, horror, and romance in a hilarious romp that starts in Chicago and ends in a quaint medieval town in sun-drenched Tuscany, Zombie Candy is a genre-hopping knee-slapper of a novel. Get it on Amazon.

About the author: Frederick Lee Brooke has worked as an English teacher, language school manager, and small business owner and has traveled extensively in Tuscany, the setting of part of Zombie Candy. Visit Fred on his website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads accounts.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: An Unfamiliar Murder

An Unfamiliar MurderI’m not typically a big fan of murder stories–probably to do with an overactive imagination that will easily project blood, gore, and evil intent on my own world with only slight provocation–but Jane Isaac is part of a small circle of authors who’ve been inordinately supportive of my own efforts, so it seemed only fair to at least give her book a try.

Her blurb made me think I would be putting the book down partway through–to avoid nightmares!–but was also compelling enough to to poke my nose in when I got the chance today:

Arriving home from a routine day at work, Anna Cottrell has no idea that her life is about to change forever. But discovering the stabbed body of a stranger in her flat, then becoming prime suspect in a murder enquiry is only the beginning. Her persistent claims of innocence start to crumble when new evidence links her irrevocably with the victim… Leading her first murder enquiry, DCI Helen Lavery unravels a trail of deception, family secrets and betrayal. When people close to the Cottrell family start to disappear, Lavery is forced into a race against time. Can she catch the killer before he executes his ultimate victim?

The twin themes of women’s disempowerment and family ties underlie the well-crafted storyline:

“In view of the Super’s threats she wanted to make sure that there were no gaps, nothing screamingly obvious that she had missed, that an accomplice may notice immediately–leading to a quick arrest. She looked at her watch. It read two o’clock. She was desperate. She had just over a day to solve this case before another senior officer would muscle in.

Helen was not laboring under any illusions. The introduction of an assistant at this point in the investigation would blight her career, whatever the outcome. In an organization where strong characters and competition at all levels was rife, it would be seen as a weakness in her professional ability by her seniors and a failure in her role as an incident manager by her team.”

It would be foolish, though, to think that the two characters whose perspectives dominate the tale are weak. Despite being saddled with a debilitating fear of closed doors, Anna proves she’s no shrinking violet within the first chapters of the book, displaying admirable presence of mind in the face of a jimmied door and dark apartment.

Helen has her own weight of melancholy and history working at cross-purposes with her career ambitions. Having lost her husband to an accident, she’s now dealing with raising two sons to adulthood without a partner–and the sometimes dubious support of her mother.

This story had a whole lot less to do with the horror of a gruesome murder that could well be the work of a serial killer, and a whole lot more to do with the psychology of family ties. Particularly interesting are the parallels between the women’s relationships with their fathers. This really is a modern story, reflecting the tensions of being raised in a world that allows the theory of women’s advancement with limited practical application of it in fact.

I had expected to dip my toes into the tale, and instead was pulled in head-first, only surfacing briefly for a conversation with my mom, before devouring the end. I can happily recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a fast-paced suspense novel, tracing the ins and outs of a contradictory police investigation. I thoroughly enjoyed it (despite the opening scenes painting horrifying pictures in my brain) and look forward to what promises to be a very interesting series.

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