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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.

Excerpt: Red Slaves – Dust to Blood

I’ve been up to my eyeballs in editing, lately–both my own book and as part of my freelance services. That doesn’t leave me much time to do much more than consider plot points, devices, through-lines, and other writerly things… But I’m also feeling the pressure of maintaining at least a little bit of activity on my blog. In fact, in the next few weeks, in anticipation of the release of my first novel, I’ll be reconstituting this space a little to focus more on my writing–and highlighting links to where people can find my work for sale (hint, hint!).


In the meantime, I’m actually really liking how my book is turning out. So, tonight I present you with an exclusive sneak peek:

The Moscow metro is an amazing network of antique underground trains passing through stations with magnificent mosaics, frescoed ceilings, chandeliers, and stained glass paens to the People, passed by by the prols who are just looking for a way to help their families survive the byzantine governmental requirements for everyday living.

It still takes me a good 45 minutes of rattling around and surviving the bus transfer to find my way to the side entrance of the Scientific Library and the rickety wooden desk where a middle-aged Babuschka is the acting queen dragon guarding the gates of access. After some shuffling back and forth and a discussion of whether I have the right paperwork, a young, enthusiastic intern comes to guide me through the bowels of the building. Straslavski either has no power in his bureaucratic hierarchy, or he’s a genius at avoiding oversight because his office is so buried in the basement that after many turnings I’m sure I’ll never find my way out of the building alone. In fact, I’m a little concerned that the building is more decrepit than advertised, with the rust stains and dripping water from the overhead pipes, and really hope it doesn’t collapse on me of its own decay while I’m trying to unearth factual support for Sam’s flight of fancy.

Straslavski turns out to be younger than I had imagined, given my boss’ long-standing relationship with him, but still at least a decade older than my own thirty-five years. His indeterminate age is underlined by the stooped posture and nondescript visage of a habitual bookworm, complete with wispy brown hair and horn-rimmed glasses that don’t look right on his face, but his eyes have a lively sparkle and his English is surprisingly good. I even forgive him for fixating his gaze on my chest when he offers strong, black Russian tea out of his own personal stash and fresh-brewed in the samovar in the corner of his office. Apparently he’s as stunned by my presence and appearance as I am by his, but nonetheless gets right down to business.

As you can see by my tag-happy list for this post, I’m going with Katherine Kurtz’s designation of this book as a sub-genre of fantasy she calls crypto-history, “in which the “history behind the history” intertwines with the “official” histories of diverse periods.” In my case, this book is set soon after the Iron Curtain comes down and speculates about the potential supernatural source of the Communist bloc’s power in the first place.

I hope you’ll have as much fun with it as I have been!

Book Review: The Adept

The AdeptI found this series when I was in college, based on the fact that I was already a fan of Katherine Kurtz. Her Deryni series took high fantasy and magic use to a spiritual realm that I hadn’t seen in any other author, so the blurb on the back of this book really caught my attention:

He is Sir Adam Sinclair: nobleman, physician, scholar–and Adept. A man of learning and power, he practices ancient arts unknown to the twentieth century. He has had many names, lived many lives, but his mission remains the same: to protect the Light from those who would tread the Dark Roads. Now his beloved Scotland is defiled by an unholy cult of black magicians who will commit any atrocity to achieve their evil ends–even to raise the dead.

In recent weeks, as I’ve been in the process of editing my own debut novel and considering the influences that led me to write what I’ve written, I have had to nod in Kurtz’s direction. On her website she notes:

While adding novels to the Deryni series, Katherine began further utilizing her historical training to develop another sub-genre she calls “crypto-history,” in which the “history behind the history” intertwines with the “official” histories of such diverse periods as the Battle of Britain (Lammas Night, one of her favorites), the American War for Independence (Two Crowns for America), contemporary Scotland (The Adept Series, with co-author Deborah Turner Harris), and the Knights Templar (two more novels with DTH, plus three anthologies of short stories about the Templars).

So naturally I had to revisit this old favorite to brush up on my own approach to crypto-history.


The joint authorship between Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris is seamless and results in descriptive scenes like this:

Adam pursed his lips, nodding as he realized what Peregrine had glimpsed–echoes of a past life whose details were only accessible to Adam himself when in a deeply altered trance state, and mostly elusive during ordinary consciousness. As a psychiatrist, he preferred to believe that his “far memories” were psychological constructs–tricks that the mind played, in order to deal with material more acceptably couched in the fantasy of a past existence than in the cold, stark terms of reality. The mystical part of him preferred to believe that it all was literally true, in some way he could not begin to explain.

This is “mystical mumbo-jumbo” couched in scientific terms and accessible via spirituality that I thoroughly enjoy. That it’s wrapped in a mystery to be solved with real-world, life-and-death stakes adds to the vibrancy of the tale. In fact, my copy of this book is quite dog-eared for all the many times I’ve loaned it to friends with the injunction that this reality might be closer to my reality than theirs is. That the good versus evil philosophical discussions are backed up with the practical impact evil choices have in the real world is even more eye-opening.

Anne McCaffrey’s cover quote about this being a “late-night turn-the-pager” continues to be literally true for me, no matter how many times I’ve read it. Its pacing and length mean it’s very difficult to put down–balanced by the knowledge that it won’t take long to finish anyway. So I can unconditionally recommend (again!) this to anyone who enjoys a good mystery, who likes to see the good guys win, or who appreciates a deeply spiritual underpinning to the motivations that drive the main characters of the story.

Book Review: Arcane Solutions

Arcane SolutionsFull disclosure here: I got to both beta read and edit G L Drummond‘s latest offering, Arcane Solutions. So I’ve seen it in rough form and been paid to work out the final kinks, so I’m obviously not unbiased about whether this story is worth reading; I’ve already invested a lot of time to make what I felt was a good story to begin with, stronger. That said, I’m really pleased with where Drummond took the final result. (And I’m a fangirl of hers anyway, if you’ve seen the interview I did with her last year, or my review of Code Walker, which I also edited.)


To get you in the mood, here’s the blurb:

Rescuing under-aged vamp bait and retrieving stolen possessions is all in a day’s work for Discord Jones. When a gorgeous, lying bastard of an elf hires her to find an ancient book, danger takes on a whole new meaning. The book holds an unbelievably powerful spell, and “favored prey of demons” becomes an unwelcome addition to her resume.

Discord, known to her friends as Cordi, is cast in the mold of urban fantasy heroines like Mercy Thompson, Kitty Norville, or Kate Daniels, but with a few key differences to make her stand out. She is slightly younger than the norm, and as such is really still growing into herself, her self-confidence, and her unusual abilities. She also has very close relationships with both her parents, who were happily married until the defining pre-event of the book, “the Melding” pushed Cordi into a 3-year-long coma. As Cordi puts it, “It seemed that watching your comatose daughter slowly waste away to bones put a harsh strain on a marriage.”

Having a nonetheless normal, adult relationship with her parents is actually a strangely unique characteristic for an urban fantasy heroine. Cordi naturally wishes her folks were still together, but she’s also well-adjusted enough to say: “I remember how devastating it had been to wake up and discover they’d divorced two years after the fact. My little brothers are five and three, and I adore them, so don’t want them to have to deal with divorce.” How often, in fact, are we given independent women protagonists who are able to come to that kind of mature resolution without going through a whole soap opera to get there? And how often do we see adult characters who are able to see their parents as adults who make their own mistakes, have their own strengths and weaknesses, and understand and navigate between their differences? It provides a refreshing back story we don’t often get in what frequently get portrayed as post-apocalyptic worlds (where the apocalypse is, mainly, the uncloseting of magic and its associated beings).

Drummond’s real strength continues to shine in this offering. Her ability to write dialogue that is at once funny, engaging, and moves the plot along sets her apart. As an example, Cordi tests her newly assigned partner’s nerves by driving recklessly through the city while taking advantage of an unnamed psi ability:

Nick scowled. “Would you watch the damn road?”

“Wuss. I could drive blindfolded. Wanna see?” My grin broadened as panic bloomed over his face.

“No. There’s…holy…! Can I please drive?”

“I already answered that question. It was ‘no.’ Your turn: any vampire enemies?”

“I’m a shifter, what do you think?” Nick grabbed the dash, still scowling.

“Names?” I persisted, making a sharp right that jerked him into the door. We were nearing an entry point for the Barrows, so I began searching for a parking spot on the car-lined street.

“No one you need to worry about. Are we stopping? Because I think I need to throw up. Has anyone ever told you that you suck at driving?”

“Yeah, and I’ll tell you what I told them: kiss my ass.” Spotting an open spot, I slowed down.

The shifter recovered quickly. “Ooh, can I?”

Drummond builds real and relatable relationships between her characters, which ensures the reader remains engaged throughout the story. I can highly recommend her work for all these reasons to anyone who has a yen for a new twist on the urban fantasy tropes, anyone who enjoys a good mystery, or anyone who likes a good action-adventure story livened up with the unorthodox beginning of a romance. (And, yes, the bedroom scenes are hot, so pay attention to the NC-17 rating the author has put on the title.) She’s offering a coupon code on her author Facebook page until February 3, so run and grab yourself a copy of some good, cheap entertainment while it lasts. And don’t be deterred if you miss the deal, because she’s still crazy-reasonably priced even at full price (gotta love the flexibility an indie author brings to the table there!).

Review: Doppelgangster

DoppelgangsterI ran across this in the bookshelves at a local book store when I was browsing for a new author a few months back, and was intrigued by the blurb on the back cover (ironically by an author whose name didn’t ring any bells, despite the “New York Times bestselling author” appellation).

“In Laura Resnick’s Doppelgangster, the New York actress is ‘resting’ between roles by working as a singing waitress at a Manhattan mob restaurant because wiseguys tip well. Then duplicated gangsters appear, bullets start flying, and it’s up to Esther and her friend Max the Magician to fight Evil by stopping the gang war before it starts killing the wrong people. And if she has time, maybe Esther can actually keep a hot date with her hunky detective friend Lopez, who doesn’t believe in magic. Yet. Unplug the phone and settle down for a fast and funny read.”
New York Times bestselling author Mary Jo Putney

What I didn’t realized when I bought it, based on the way DAW was marketing it, was that rather than being the first in the series, this was actually the second book. (And can I digress here a moment, to complain about how truly NON-USEFUL it is to have publishing houses pick up a series at the second book and not provide readers any guidance about other, previous books that author has produced, because they’re on a different label?? In this case, Luna bears that imprint, and I shudder to think what kind of politics played into the decision to carry on as if the second book were the first in the series. In a tweet 11/16 @laresnick says it will be reprinted by DAW June, 2012.) Thankfully, Resnick seems to have recognized that this might be an issue, and has back-loaded information from Disappearing Nightly as appropriate into this installment of her ongoing Esther Diamond series.

This did mean there was some repetitive information built in to the story line, as if to ensure the reader doesn’t miss the fact that Esther is a struggling actress who really has no special skills apart from acting–and a penchant for getting herself into sticky situations. She’s a smart-mouthed woman not unlike Stephanie Plum and in this installment is working as a waitress at a known mob hang-out. This, naturally, is a bit of a concern to her cop almost-boyfriend, who is trying to solve murder mysteries of his own.

It all ends up reading like a madcap mix of romance, fantasy, and mystery–and really tickled my funny bone with some laugh-out-loud moments:

Father Gabriel said, “And I’m so pleased you and Lucky chose St. Monica’s for this meeting. A house of God is certainly the right place to take the first step toward ending this new round of violence and renewing our bonds with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ our Lord.” He did a little double take when he looked at me and remembered I wasn’t a Christian. “And also certainly the loving bonds of, er, Moses, Abraham, Yahweh … Yes, indeed. All very good people, too.”

OK… Maybe just that one paragraph doesn’t convey the hilarity of a chick dressed like an Italian mobster’s gumata talking to another Italian mobster’s widow in a church, while trying to subtly (as subtly as a bull in a china store, really) pump her for information.

Most urban fantasy heroines come with some sort of power of their own, so finding one who is down on her luck, and as common as they come and thus reacts to the wildly strange apparitions that start plaguing her life with the aplomb of a seasoned New Yorker who knows that if you just treat them normally they’re likely to go away on their own, is a real treat.

I can highly recommend this one as a funny revisioning of the common urban fantasy tropes, that focuses more on the murder mystery and romance angles than the paranormal side–though that is deftly woven into the mix as well. And I’m excited that there are two more books planned in the series, for a grand total of six, so keep your eyes open with me for more publication information upcoming.

Review: A Spy At Home

A Spy At HomeAuthor Joseph Rinaldo contacted me to review this and sent me a PDF to be able to read it on my iPad. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, given the wide range of seemingly divergent tags on the book’s Amazon page (ranging from bereavement, to embezzlement, to mental retardation, to fishing, to espionage) and the somewhat cryptic introduction from the author himself:

Garrison’s story begins when he retires from the CIA. In retirement Garrison shares the pain he inflicted on his family during his life abroad. Noah, Garrison’s adult son with Down syndrome, a form of mental retardation, doesn’t trust dad when he returns home. Experience has taught Noah that dad always leaves again. Over time they grow closer.

The book is written memoir-style, in first person as a series of recollections. The impact of the CIA and its training on the main character, Garrison, is unveiled through the course of the book, with periodic side-notes as the he tries to come to terms with the things he’s done on behalf of his country, and the impact those choices have on him as an emotional human being with a wife and child.

Louisa is written as a pragmatic, caring woman who has figured out how to live her life with a husband who is an only-sometimes presence. Yet she also demonstrates deep insight into his character as they learn to live together in retirement:

She kept eye contact as she walked over to me. Slowly she wrapped her arms around my waist. Gently, she whispered in my ear, “I won’t think less of a husband who cries, or gets mad, or goes fishing by himself for a long weekend. This husband doesn’t have to tell his wife anything about what happened, but this husband should come to grips with whatever haunts him from the past. That might help make him a better person, father, and husband.”

More harshly than I meant, I asked, “What am I doing wrong now?”

Louisa backed up, held my hand when she sat on the couch. “You spend more and more time staring at the walls and the TV. You don’t even realize you’re doing it, but your mind clearly isn’t in the present. You need to admit, or to forgive yourself for whatever you did. I know you. I know you never would’ve intentionally killed innocent people. Innocent people might have died because you helped others, but you never intended for them to die.”

So while the title may mislead some readers into thinking that there will be lots of dangerous details abroad, it’s the “at home” piece of the title that really drives the action. Garrison’s obvious abilities as a spy–his training in facial recognition, his ability to transfer vast sums with ease, his ability to assess a situation and the main players in it–fall far short of what is needed to live at home in harmony with his family. This is not to say that there aren’t many allusions to his activities overseas, as well as some direct remembrances, but truly the focus is on one man trying to come to grips with the value he has brought to the world around him.

The fact that his job has also brought danger to his family’s doorstep is another source of self-castigation. It’s not without irony that all his worries and schemes amount to nothing so much as a hill of beans in the face of other natural elements in the course of his life.

My two main niggles with this story: Garrison mentions accepting responsibility for his infant son in his 40s. By the end of the book, that child is himself approaching that age. Some of the action Garrison throws himself into after his retirement, thus means he’s at a rather advanced age himself, but the timeline jumps around some and it’s difficult to get a clear picture of how old he would have been at a certain point to be handling such high-intensity events. Which leads to my second critique: The frame story of the opening “Note to the Reader” indicates that this story is written with some intent to be published, but is really driven by a need to make himself known to his son–despite the implicit difficulties of sharing all of these complexities with someone constrained both by Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s. Because of that framing, it was difficult to reach past Garrison’s almost nihilistic world-view and not feel that there was a little too much of “but the lady doth protest too much”. And that makes the solution to his son’s care past his own death read a little like a handy Deus Ex Machina disentanglement of a major plot element.

All of that said, though, the leitmotif of whether humans are fundamentally good or fundamentally selfish/self-centered/untrustworthy elevates the work to a philosophical level: How much does your choice of career impact the lens through which you view your fellow man? For this strength alone I would be happy to recommend this to anyone looking for a story about how your perceptions of your life evolve as you continue to add experiences to your life. Beyond that, the author’s skill at outlining the process of learning to live with a Down syndrome or Alzheimer’s patient was gently and lovingly inserted into the tale, and comes from obvious real-life experience. Despite my inability to really pin down a genre, I suspect this book will be appreciated by a wide range of readers, and look forward to reading more from this author myself.

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