The Alphabet Series by Sue Grafton

Hey everyone,

Well, my two weeks between blog posts has turned into a month…go figure! I was so certain I could stick to a regular blogging schedule, but as we all know, life gets in the way.

Over a year ago, maybe almost two (seeing as how the time goes), I decided to listen to the complete Kinsey Millhone series by Sue Grafton, starting with “A” is for Alibi. I’ve read all of them before, more than once, and listened to them too, also more than once, but I wanted to listen to the entire series in order. It does make a difference. Not only for the character’s development, but also to observe the growth and mastery of a gifted writer. It didn’t disappoint.

Kinsey is a great character. She’s flawed and perfect at the same time. She’s fiercely independent. She’s brave and loyal. She manages to survive betrayals and deceptions, assaults and gunshot wounds. She’s falls in and out of love, but has a constant, unwavering devotion to her 80-something landlord, Henry Pitts. She’s a fashion and food mess, always sticking to her favorites, no matter how much guff she gets. Jeans, turtleneck and boots are her uniform; with peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and a glass of Chardonnay, along with frequent visits to McDonald’s, her definition of  Michelin 5-star delights. As for family; well, about half-way through the series, she discovers long-lost relatives, and it’s unclear if she’s better for that or not. And she solves everything that comes her way, along with many cases that just, somehow, land in her lap.

I first read “A” is for Alibi around 1992, about 10 years after it was first published. I could not put it down; I found it at the library, and sat, transfixed, as I read it. I devoured each subsequent book in the series as they were released, and then picked them up again when I decided to try my hand at creating a female sleuth and writing a series. I studied them, or tried to, inexpertly dissecting character and storylines and themes.

The first half or so of the series, books “A” through “N”, were narrated by Mary Pfeiffer, with the remaining ones narrated by Judy Kaye. I found both narrators solid, but Judy Kaye injected such personality into Kinsey and her voice that I often felt that I was a fly on the wall as a conversation or event was underway.

Sadly, Sue Grafton died in 2017. She completed the series through “Y”, with “Y” is for Yesterday, and was under contract for “Z” is for Zero when she died. Apparently, she had not yet started it at the time of her death. Even through Sue Grafton wrote twenty-five books with the same character living in the same town, each book was fresh and new, revealing aspects of Kinsey’s character, along with startling new themes, that hadn’t surfaced before. Genius, that’s all I can say — Sue Grafton’s writing was pure genius.

Check this out, 25 books, can you imagine?!

Banner on Sue Grafton’s website

When Ms. Grafton was alive, she swore that she’d come back from the dead to prevent her heirs from selling her series to TV. But, times have changed. Her family sold the rights to A+E in 2021, saying that writing for television now is far more sophisticated than when Ms. Grafton was writing for TV in the 80s (Sue Grafton’s alphabet novels headed to television). I, for one, can’t wait and look forward to finding out who will bring Kinsey to life.

Until next time,

Nancy

Book review: Short fiction

Hey everyone,

This week I’m reviewing two short fiction pieces from one of Paper Angel Press’ imprints, Water Dragon Publishing. Both are works of speculative fiction, transporting readers to imaginative worlds. It’s an impressive feat, to create compelling characters and build a word in the space of just a few short pages, but both these authors have done a great job with this. I recommend you check out both of these short works.

Parrish Blue, by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray, is a story dreamed out of the author’s experience with the Maxfield Parrish painting, Dream Castle in the Sky. In a far distant world, in a distant time, a woman’s life is changed by a dreamer who’s traveled across galaxies to see the painting. This is a love story, the story of a woman taking a leap of faith, inspired by someone who loves art.

The main character, Sallie, is a waitress in an exclusive restaurant, catering to Earth’s elite. When an unlikely patron ends up at one of her tables, she mistakes him for a victim of a set-up, a prop in a drama who would end up footing the bill for an expensive and lavish evening of fine drinks and exquisite food. But she’s wrong, and over the evening, as she brings the man one extravagant course after another, she comes to realize that he’s here for a different reason: for the painting and only the painting.

My favorite sentence describes the high-tech rendering of the painting. I love how the author marries old and new in this sentence, and how the reader immediately knows they’ve entered a completely different world.

“Mar-El Parelli’s ten-by-sixteen meter rendition of Maxfield Parrish’s Romance glowed with an impossible luminous, shimmering light made possible by MicroFirm’s patented image-generation components.”

26 pages, published 6/28/21

The Third Time’s The Charm, by Steven D. Brewer, takes place in an airship, a cross between an ocean liner and a gondola like that of “Castle in the Sky”. The story’s protagonist, Revin, is an apprentice to a history professory, Professor Dirge, and they are travelling to a distant university. The airship is powered by tow lines attached to what are called “ethereal streams”, or air currents. The lines are controlled by “remmers” whose work is to master the currents so the airship stays on course and stable.

But the ship, the Madeline, is overrun by pirates, and Revin is pitted against the pirate captain in two life and death struggles. The third time the two adversaries meet, Revin has to make a decision. And, as the title reminds us, “the third time’s the charm”! Not only is this a great adventure story, a swashbuckling pirate tale, but the author also skillfully incorporates a secret about the main character that the astute reader can glean from carefully placed hints.

My favorite sentence describes the main character’s thoughts about the journey ahead:

“His mind’s eye returned to the captivating vision outside the airship window: the bondless ocean dotted with tiny islands; white clouds forming on the lee side of volcanic peaks in the afternoon sun; and the glowing blue tow lines of remmers, drawing them inexorably forward, toward an unfamiliar land and unfamiliar people.”

38 pages, published 11/22/21

I recommend you check out both of these short pieces.

Enjoy!

Nancy

Book Review – Daily Fresh by Jory Post

Hey everyone,

I want to let you know about another gem from my publisher’s company. This one is called Daily Fresh and is published by the non-fiction imprint, Unruly Voices. It was written by Jory Post. It’s a set of seventy elegant essays that the author penned in the final months of his life. He embarked on this journey in the summer of 2020 after enrolling in a memoir and personal essay class taught by Dan White.

I can’t say enough about this book. I loved it. The essays are poignant, offering a rare, honest glimpse into a life. Nothing is sacred as the author probes into all corners of existence, examining, with love, humor and shrewd insight, both the interior and the exterior. I particularly liked the glimpses into author’s writing life: his routine, his goals, his lists, the submissions saga, the rejections, followed by the glorious acceptance emails.

I loved reading about the support he had along the way from other writers, both mega-published and un-published. And as someone for whom Santa Cruz is near and dear, I loved reading about his love for the area, from the take-out at Gayle’s to attending author readings at Bookshop Santa Cruz (pre-COVID naturally) to a celebration of the literary life in this small corner of the universe. I was also awed by how seamlessly the essays fit together, how well-written and tight they were, and how Jory wrote one, day after day, for seventy days.

The essays can be read in a few sittings, or taken daily, as the title implies. The essay topics will delight you. There are essays on baseball, extinct birds, deck-building, love, family, friends, chemo, COVID, cancer, words, therapy dogs, poker, golf, and night walking, among others. It’s a joyful book, full of love, brimming with laughter. Something inspiring for everyone.

Here’s the start of one of my favorites, “One Day at a Time”:

“Will I talk myself out of continuing to write these Daily Fresh pieces by beginning to think they are simply another form of navel-gazing? I hope not, because even though they are initially prompt-less, eventually a prompt appears that guides me forward into a near-stream-of-consciousness pathway that occasionally produces something of interest.”

The book: Daily Fresh by Jory Post, 332 pages, published October 25, 2021 by Unruly Voices. Available at all your favorite places.

Book Review – The Lip Reader by Michael Thal

Hey everyone,

This week, I’m reviewing The Lip Reader by Michael Thal, which was published by Paper Angel Press on November 1. I first met Michael many years ago when we had both published books around the same time with a previous publisher. He was writing YA books at the time, and I thoroughly enjoyed his YA series featuring Koolura, a preteen with superpowers. Pretty cool.

His latest book, The Lip Reader, is a love story. The narrator is Zhila Shirazi, an Iranian-born Jewish woman, who immigrates to the United States after the Iranian Revolution. Zhila is deaf due to a childhood illness. Her ability to read lips is astonishing, as is her life story. This is a story of love, courage, compassion, an determination. I couldn’t put it down.

Here’s my review:

The Lip Reader by Michael Thal

The Lip Reader is a poignant portrayal of Zhila Shirazi, a woman who embodied the word “resilient”. She met life’s challenges with determination, navigating adversities with bravery, grace, and compassion. As a child in Iran, she contracted meningitis, which caused her to lose her hearing. Hearing aids at that time were expensive and out of reach, so, in order to survive, Zhila learned to read lips. This extraordinary skill carried Zhila through life, allowing her to navigate relationships, careers, immigration to the US after the Iranian Revolution, miscarriage and divorce, a cochlear implant, and a second chance at love.

Zhila was truly a person who gave more than she received and a beautiful example of compassion in action. Author Michael Thal has created a first-person account of Zhila’s life, giving the reader a humbling opportunity to walk with, and learn from, this amazing person.

Another highly recommended read.

The book: The Lip Reader by Michael Thal, 226 pages, published November 1, 2021 by Paper Angel Press. Available at all your favorite places.

Book Review – Carnival Farm by Lisa Jacob

Hey everyone,

Well it’s been months since I posted on this blog — just about seven, in fact — and in the intervening time I have learned a lot about loss, grief, and love. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions, but I’m sensing some lightness these days. Some forward motion.

I haven’t written a word in the last year, save for journaling, which has been a lifesaver. I have paid attention to my books though, and thank you to everyone who has enjoyed them over the last year.

And I’m so excited so share with you that the Shelby McDougall audio books are now available! They were narrated by the talented Jenn Broda, who gave voice to Shelby’s story with enthusiasm, delight, and care. She was the perfect narrator! You can find them Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books. Here’s the links for the Audible versions:

To celebrate this amazing milestone, my books will be on sale from November 18th to the 21st.

I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year; but I haven’t given up completely on writing! Instead, I’ve decided to read and review some of the amazing books published by Paper Angel Press, staring with Carnival Farm from Lisa Jacob.

Carnival Farm

Carnival Farm is a delightful read, and is just the right length to cozy up with. The main character, Seagn Conway (such a lovely name) is a veterinarian who is unhappy in her job, “bored to tears with dogs and cats and the every-once-in-a-while rabbit.” When she happens upon a travelling carnival’s petting zoo in need of an upgrade, she jumps in to save it, deciding in an instant to change her life.  A decision from the heart, not the pocketbook. She buys the ten animals – a cow, a Shetland pony, pigs, goats, and sheep – plus the semitruck used to transport them from site to site as well as the necessities to keep and show them. Next she quits her job, and sets about learning how to care for, display, and nurse ten farm animals back to health. All while trying to keep herself financially afloat.

Seagn is a woman with a big, big heart. The animals take over her life; and it takes everything – all her savings, all her energy, and all her wits — to nurture them. Her spine and her fire carry her through. I won’t spoil the plot for you, but it’s safe to say that Seagn gives her all. She wonders, every day, if it was worth it.

I’ll let you read the book and figure out the answer to that question. Safe to say though, that this is a fun and thought-provoking read. What does it take to make a leap of faith? How many times have we all looked at something and said, “Wow, I’d do that in an instant, if only…” Here’s a story of someone who ignored the countless “if only-s” and went ahead and followed her heart.

Highly recommended.

The book: Carnival Farm by Lisa Jacobs, 217 pages, published September 20, 2021, by Paper Angel Press. Available at all your favorite places.

Book review: Crime with the Classics series by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Hey everyone,

Today I want to let you know about the delightful series, Crime with the Classics, written by my colleague in crime, Katherine Bolger Hyde. Ms. Hyde and I are both members of Santa Cruz Women of Mystery, women in Santa Cruz who write mysteries! Imagine my delight when I discovered that we share an alma mater — Reed College in Portland, Oregon. In fact, the protagonist of this series is a literature professor at Reed.

The first book in the series, Arsenic with Austen, introduces us to Emily Cavanaugh, Reed College professor, avid knitter, and cat lover. She inherits a fortune from her great aunt; a seaside home on the Oregon coast in fictional Stony Brook, Oregon; as well as plenty of real estate. The series takes off from there, with at least one murder in each book, as well as a blossoming romance that leads to true commitment. The books in the series are clever, with a well-loved classic anchoring each one:

  • In Arsenic with Austen, Emily turns to Jane Austen’s Persuasion while searching for happiness.
  • In Bloodstains with Bronte, Emily is reading Wuthering Heights and discovers that one of the young men remodeling her home has much too close of a resemblance to Heathcliff.
  • And, in book 3, Cyanide with Christie, Emily leans on vintage Agatha Christie to solve a murder, one where she herself may have been the intended victim.
  • Book 4, Death with Dostoevsky, finds Emily back at Reed College (now called Bede), set on finishing her treatise on Dostoevsky. When one of her favorite students, a tormented, talented scholar, is accused of murder, Emily investigates.
  • Fatality with Forster, Book 5, will be out soon. I’m looking forward to it.

The covers are charming as well:

The aspect I most liked about the series is what my writing teacher calls “container.” I was so impressed with how Ms. Hyde was able to impart the tone and style of the classic used as the central theme of the book to the story at hand. It was brilliant! For example, Ms. Hyde was able to take the darkness of Dostoevsky and create the mood for Death with Dostoevsky around that. In the first chapter, the tormented young scholar Emily is trying to clear of murder charges is described as someone whose “…dark eyes in their deep sockets burned now with annoyance, but she [Emily] remembered them smoldering with a perpetual agitation…” In Arsenic with Austen, the last sentence in the first paragraph starts with “Of late…” Just a small turn of phrase that sets the container for the book. Ms. Hyde clearly knows language, container, and how to write a compelling book!

All in all, I highly recommend this series.

Until next time,

Nancy

Book Review: The Last Speck of the World

Hey everyone,

Hope everyone reading this is doing well! Another book review today, The Last Speck of the World by Flavia Ida. It’s the story of a plague that wipes out humanity. Huh. It came out last year; very timely indeed.

The Last Speck of the World

The-Last-Speck-of-the-World-website

Book description:

No name. No race. No nationality. The survivor of the perfect catastrophe struggles to preserve herself and her hope that she may be found – by humans.

“I am female, thirty-two, alone in the last speck of the world. My name, my race and my nationality are no longer important. I do not know why the plague has spared me. It has taken everything else. All the clocks and all the machines are dead. What keeps me breathing is the hope that I may not be the sole custodian of the planet.”

My review:

The Last Speck of the World tells the story of a plague that has wiped out all of humanity save for one lonely survivor. The woman is not named. Her speck of the world is not identified. Her race is a mystery. Her background, never revealed. She could be anyone from anywhere. As she struggles to survive, she holds out hope that she is not the last of the human species. 

This book is particularly powerful in this day and age. The idea of a plague wiping out both humanity and animal life was once relegated to the realms of science fiction. Now, in startlingly realistic technicolor, we are living in that possibility. 

The author, Flavia Ida, has been able to capture, in heartbreaking pose, the small things that make us human: the awe of a sunrise or sunset; a brief, violent illness; memories and thoughts of loved ones; a beloved home and neighborhood; fear; hunger; pain. Survival takes a lot of time, but threaded through those long, lonely days runs the power of hope, optimism, and love. 

My favorite sentence, which also happens to be the first sentence in the book: “Another night when the world seemed so beautiful she could almost be persuaded it was the work of the creators.”

I highly recommend this book.

Until next time,

Nancy

Book Review: All That Was Asked

Hey everyone,

Well, it’s crazy times out there and I hope anyone reading this is staying sane and healthy. It’s hard not to be completely obsessed with the news–one thing I’m doing to keep my mind off of it is reading. Through my publisher, Paper Angel Press, I’ve been introduced to all kinds of fun books, so my plan is to read and review, read and review! Hope you enjoy.

Today, I’m reviewing a new book from Paper Angel Press, All That Was Asked by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray. The book blurb caught my eye:

It was supposed to be an easy jaunt to observe the stick-like aliens of Deep Valley Universe.

But Ansegwe — perpetual student, aspiring poet, and scion of the (allegedly criminal) Varayla Syndicate — well, he just has to ruin everything. As everyone knows, Ansegwe may have sensibility, but he’s not long on sense.

When a weird, twitchy little creature attaches itself to him, Ansegwe violates every protocol in the handbook to save its life. Finding himself in all kinds of trouble, Ansegwe needs to make some serious life changes, starting with that complicated family of his.

Ansegwe may just have to grow up … now that he’s adopted an alien.

As did the cover:

All-That-Was-Asked-website

And I loved the book; it captivated me from the first page! Here’s my review:

This small gem of a book read like a classic ethnographic text, from the cool, detached language to the detailed observations and the skillful rendering of alien speech. The story starts with a mapping expedition to a place called the Deep Valley, located in a parallel universe. Ansegwe, a poet and nephew to the financiers of this grand exploratory trip, has finagled his way onto the team, intent on capturing everything he sees in verse. 

Near the end of the expedition, as Ansegwe is straggling at the end of the group, aliens chasing another alien burst out of the forest. First contact! But it’s haphazard and chaotic, and something the expedition brass wants to pretend never happened. Unbeknownst to those at the top, against all protocol and common sense, Ansegwe has saved the life of the alien creature who was being hunted and smuggled it onto the ship.

The author, Vanessa MacLaren-Wray, is truly a master of showing, not telling. She effortlessly crafts sentences that describe creatures, feature by feature, without giving it all away in one fell swoop. For example, Ansegwe, the narrator, laments the agonies of the expedition: “…the incessant rubbing of my inexpertly-adjusted pack grated the flesh on my back until a broad, thick callus decorated the crest of my hind end–that part of my anatomy that had formerly been deemed so attractive to he opposite sex. Their spring-muscles exhausted by endless startle responses, my spines ached ferociously.” Spines, plural, really?! I really appreciated how Ms. MacLaren-Wray was able to emphasize physical characteristics without spelling it out. As a reader, we can all draw our own pictures.

Another deft touch in this book was the practice of including quotes from other characters in the story  at the beginning of each chapter. The quotes rounded out the actions and character of Ansegwe, shedding light on the storyline and the characters, without being heavy-handed or obvious. Some of the quotes were humorous, others more serious, but all contributed to the depth of the story. 

This is a billed as sci-fi, but it’s more. It’s a story of wonder and friendship, loyalty and bravery, and  ultimately, love. Time and time again, Ansegwe risks everything to save the life of his alien creature. A highly recommended read.

Give this one a try!

Until next time,

Nancy

Book Review: Goddess Chosen

Hey everyone,

Today, I’m reviewing Goddess Chosen, the first book in the Goddess Rising series by Jay Hartlove. I really liked this book, especially because it couldn’t really be pigeon-holed into one specific genre. It’s fantasy. No, it’s magical realism! No, it’s historical fiction! You get the idea…:) I plan to read the second, Goddess Rising, and am looking forward to the third in the series, coming later in 2020. The series is published by Paper Angel Press, and you can learn more about the series here and learn more about Jay at his website: Jay Writes

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Here’s the book blurb:

The man who would beat the devil isn’t a hero, but a ruthless madman.

Running from his dark past, former Duvalier hit man Charles Redmond is forced to take sides in a battle that has been raging since Exodus: between a power-mad magician named Silas Alverado and Sammael, the Demon Prince of Liars.

When Charles’ beloved Voodou is threatened with extinction, he must wager his life between pure evil and the man who could destroy the world.

Charles’ psychiatrist, Sanantha Mauwad, steps into this maelstrom of nightmares, violence and insanity to help Charles find his strength. She tries to save Charles’ mind, but can she save his soul?

And here’s my review. 5 stars!

What a great ride! This multi-genre read will take you across the globe, from Egypt to Washington D.C. to Haiti, as well as across time, traveling from ancient Egypt to modern day. Along the way, you’ll be immersed in the religious beliefs of the pharaohs and Santeria. 

The book starts off with a captivating scene at dusk, in the sandy plains of Egypt, with the Sphinx looming in the foreground. Next chapter — cut to a psychiatrist’s office in 2001 and a discussion about Zoloft and religion. Ritual, gods, magicians, and demons play a major role in the story, along with the themes of friendships and loyalty. As the chapters shift in time, genre,  and perspective, you’re kept off-balance, in a good way.

The character of psychiatrist Dr. Sanantha Mauwad resonated with me. She’s a well-drawn character who’s carried through the series. She’s emphatic, principled, and a great therapist. Her questions are thoughtful and pointed and non-judgmental, just like you wish for in a therapist. As she tries to sort through the quandaries and secrets her client, Charles Redmond brings her, and tease out his paranoia from his truths, she becomes his friend. And once she figures out what’s really happening, she uses her skills as a therapist to sort through it all and make sense of something that defies logical explanation.

I highly recommend this book to folks who like history, magic, drama, horror, or suspense — there’s something for readers of all stripes in this book!

My favorite sentences: “The sun was just below the horizon and the Sphinx’s enormous painted face cast a looming black silhouette on the darkening blue sky. The image of man’s place in the universe, both master over, and yet only a part of the forces of nature: the human head of knowledge, the lion claws of courage, the bull body of will, and the falcon wings of patience.”

Hope you try it!

Until next time,

Nancy

Book Review: Corporate Catharsis

Hey everyone,

Today I’m reviewing Corporate Catharsis, the recent anthology from Paper Angel Press. Full disclosure, I was a judge for this anthology. You can read about my judging experience here. It’s such a fun book, with so many engaging stories that I wanted to pass on my review.

Corporate-Catharsis-website

We’ve all been there: standing behind a desk or a counter for ridiculously long hours, letting the movie of our imagination roll behind our eyes. We’re certain that you can, far too easily, find inspiration from your workplace. Magic, mayhem, revenge — and, yes, perhaps even redemption — can all be found here. Corporate Catharsis is the anthology we all need — one that can help us survive our corporate servitude with our hearts and souls intact.

I loved the anthology.  All the stories were engaging. I’d never given thought to how an anthology is constructed, in what order the stories are arranged. But this arrangement was perfect, starting with the Foreword and the explanation of how the idea for the anthology was born. Once I received my book, I sat down and read all the stories again, in order, enjoying every single one.

Here’s my review:

As a survivor of Silicon Valley, I was particularly enchanted with this anthology.  All of the stories are rooted in the hard cold reality of the corporate world, but all take some kind of mind-bending twist. For example, “Rat Race,” by J Dark, gives new, frightening, meaning to the phrase ‘job hunt.’ “Once Upon a Nightwalker” by Ryan Southwick introduces Ellen, who could be anyone’s colleague, save for the fact she’s a zombie. Tension runs high from the first sentence: “They wondered if Ellen was going to eat them.” “Hextron, Inc.” by L.A. Jacob applies the absurdities of corporate structure to a magical enterprise. And, one of my favorites, “Best Served Cold” by Bob Schoonover is a terrifying story of revenge against out-of-control corporate greed. I urge you to give page-turning stories a try — no matter what genre you prefer, you’ll find it here. And these stories might inspire you to come up with your own creative response while sitting through your next pointless meeting!

Hope you give it a try!

Until next time,

Nancy