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

 

Book Review: The Glass House

Hey everyone,

Today I’m reviewing The Glass House: A PIP Inc. Mystery by Nancy Lynn Jarvis.  It’s the first book in a new series by Nancy, and I loved it! It’s fun and entertaining.

glass_house

Here’s my review:

I love the start of this new series from Nancy Lynn Jarvis. It’s written in her engaging style, with solid characters, plenty of red herrings, and a murder that feels perfect since the victim is someone you love to hate! 

I was particularly impressed by the deft introduction of the main character, Pat Pirard. At the start of the book, Pat is in her new car, a two-door sunburst yellow Mercedes, pulling into her newly-designated parking spot at the Santa Cruz County office building. She’s listening to Aretha’s “Respect.” We learn that she’s got strawberry blond hair. She’s wearing peachy lipstick and stylish pointed-toe pumps, and she totes a leopard print briefcase. It’s a great character portrait, right there on page 1.

Needless to say, I was hooked. Pat is a fun character. She’s likable, smart, and funny. Her friends are equally so. The plot moves along quickly, with Pat pulled into a murder investigation thirty pages in. As Pat proves herself as a P.I., she’s also falling in love. The romantic element of this book is written with just the right amount of spice. And the story is fun, with lots of detail about Santa Cruz, glass work, and the ins and outs of private detecting. As the plot unfolds, you’ll find plenty of suspects and shifting facts, and you’ll definitely want to keep reading to find out what happens. 

I highly recommend The Glass House for readers who like a cozy mystery with a dose of romance.

You can find the book on Amazon and connect with Nancy on her Amazon author page.

Until next time,

Nancy