Thursday, April 20, 2017

What mystery in your own life could be a plot for a book?

This question from Goodreads, in honor of Mystery and Thriller Week (May 1 to May 7), is a tough one, because my life is so humdrum.
I guess there was a bit of mystery surrounding a letter some of my St. Louis neighbors and I found a couple of years ago.  True, it was just an unpaid water bill, but the circumstances were a bit suspicious. 
We were chipping out some old sections of a concrete sidewalk to reclaim a small area for a neighborhood green space when we found the letter.  The bill had been due in March and it was now April.  We didn’t become concerned, however, until we noticed the bill had been due in March two years earlier.  But in thinking back about it now, it was probably because the letter was in the back pocket of a dead man’s jeans that really got us spun up.
The man was later identified as Bill Waite, which seemed about right.  And since he was a scientist working on some type of advanced stealth weapon, one of those three-letter agencies was called in to investigate.  I never realized they were so specialized, until I saw they were from the Bureau of Undercover Munitions.
The BUMs immediately suspected the next-door neighbor, Mary Hopkins, a 77-year-old, retired third grade teacher.  She had no alibi for the two-week period when Bill had gone missing.  There were whole blocks of eight hours or more when the widow claimed no one had seen her.  And since Bill’s girlfriend, Natasha Popov had disappeared about the same time as Bill, she couldn’t vouch for Mary either.  Last we saw, Natasha was driving off in her Ferrari, probably going to the airport to visit her old, dying mother in the Ukraine.  She did that a lot.
Of course, the whole mystery disappeared when the doctors completed the autopsy.  Bill had died of a heart attack.  It was just one of those strange coincidences that he fell in the open trench for the sidewalk at the exact moment that the worker and his six supervisors were all looking the other way…probably watching Natasha drive away, because she always liked to have her top down.
So, with the mystery solved, I guess that won’t work for a book after all, because my life is so humdrum…
Image from The Car Spy - 1997 Ferrari F355 Spider, CC BY 2.0,

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Review: The Life Siphon by Kathryn Sommerlot

A Reluctant Hero, Battling Evil Magic…and Himself

The Life Siphon is the first book of a duology.  It tells the story of Tatsu, a reclusive woodsman who is reluctantly drawn into a conflict with a neighboring kingdom.  To save the day, he must stop a magical energy that siphons the life force from every living thing it encounters.

Overall, the story flows well.  With the book’s length – 363 pages – and a tendency by the author to repeat some thoughts for emphasis, I wasn’t necessarily expecting that.  But it was a quick read that easily held my attention, attesting to the author’s skill.  There is also plenty of action, which obviously helps with the pace.  A few action scenes seem a bit well-worn in the fantasy genre, but those are well done.  And there are enough twists in the plot to keep you wondering.

Other than Tatsu, the characters come and go throughout the story, making them feel a bit under-developed…and often a bit mysterious.  There is, however, enough detail in their portrayals to flesh out a supporting cast.  Tatsu, on the other hand, is well developed as the reluctant hero.  He is (for the most part) happy in his isolated life in the woods.  But when he’s implicated in a crime against his homeland, the scene is set for him to be forced into service for the crown.

Apart from the action, a great deal of the book is spent exploring the angst of the reluctant hero.  And for me, this is where the book became a bit muddled.  Sometimes I could not reconcile how Tatsu was acting with what he was feeling (according to our third person perspective or the nonverbal cues).  Or I wasn’t sure what in the story had elicited his emotional response or his change in feelings.  Toward the end, for example, Tatsu becomes overwhelmed with, let’s say, ‘family issues’ to avoid a spoiler.  Yet, in the midst of this, he agrees with the statement that ‘blood doesn’t dictate who you are.’  Admittedly, recounting the doubts and misgivings of a reluctant hero is a way to add tension to a fantasy, but I couldn’t quite make sense of some of Tatsu’s reactions and emotional swings.

Overall, if you are a fan of fantasies, particularly ones with a somewhat conflicted and anxious reluctant hero, The Life Siphon will make a great addition to your shelf.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Review: Blood Shot by Blake Colby

Its Irreverence Has No Bounds

Is there anything you hold sacred – life, love, family, a good bologna sandwich?  If so, you may not want to read Blood Shot, because it treats everything in life with a merciless irreverence.  Well, everything that is except…basketball.

In a word, I found Blood Shot to be hilarious.  Its humorous exaggerations, most of which were quite politically incorrect, centered on the lack of worldliness of an elite professional basketball player turned private detective named Kable Anderken.  Who else other than the coddled pro wouldn’t understand the purpose of public transportation?  Who else would carry several thousand dollars in his socks just in case he needed to bribe a government official?  Who else would repeatedly drop his wallet and passport on the floor because he was jumping up and down, yelling about a game on TV…and not consider it a problem?  There was hardly a situation that Anderken assessed correctly, because he had never had to worry about pedestrian concerns such as money or career or other people or…well, just about anything else, including staying straight.

There is also murder mystery in the book, with some strangely odd twists and lots of action that result in an array of injuries to Anderken and an ever-rising body count.  And, as you might guess from the tongue-in-cheek nature of this work, Anderken has some success solving the mystery despite his complete lack of aptitude, skill, and knowledge.  How much success?  Well, that would be a spoiler, right?

So, if you’re in the mood for some laughs and you’re not an overpaid athlete who thinks heroin is an over-the-counter drug, then Blood Shot may be the perfect read for you.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Book Review: Raven’s Rise by Lincoln Cole

A High-Octane Finish to a Trilogy?

Raven’s Rise is the third book in the World on Fire series by Lincoln Cole.  I haven’t seen the author use the word ‘trilogy,’ although admittedly I haven’t looked that hard.  But this installment clearly brings to a close a number of mysteries and leaves few characters hanging by a thread…unlike the previous books.  So, yes, it has the feel of the end of a trilogy, while leaving ample room for the same characters to fight new hordes of demons and leave us again gasping for breath.

As I did after book 2, I’ll address the question, are these books standalone or do you need to read them in order?  And I’ll stick with my previous answer – I’d strongly recommend sticking with the sequence.  If nothing else, you’ll miss out on the development of Haatim as a character if you start here, and for me, that was central to the story.

Raven’s Rise is primarily action-oriented, starting from the first chapter, which put my heart in my throat.  The mysteries that were laid out in books 1 and 2 get resolved, often with a plot twist.  But none of the twists seemed to release any tension, as it built continuously to the end.  The author’s writing style is informal, almost as if he is just telling you a story by the campfire.  Of course, with the prominence of evil in these books, the story might not be one you’d enjoy that much at night, far from the safe confines of your home.  The downside of this style, however, is that occasionally the sentences become a bit convoluted.  But with a handful of such situations in a 370-page book, it’s not really an issue – for me, anyway.

No review is complete without some critique, and for me, there were just a couple of areas I wished the story had been handled differently.  First, one of my pet peeves with fantasy/occult books is when all the supernatural conventions of the first, in this case, 2.5 books get violated in the final pages in order to reach a resolution.  This happened, in a way, in that something inexplicable occurred at the end.  But it appeared so late and seemed so tangential that I wonder if it is just the author’s segue to the next trilogy?  We’ll see.  And second, by about 70% of the way through the book, the mysteries had been resolved and the battle lines had been drawn - all that was left was the fight to the death.  But that covered about 100 of the book's 370 pages.  To me, the impact of this book would have been doubled if the finale had been halved.  My heart can only race for so long.

So, for a superior (perhaps) trilogy, featuring some great action, unexpected twists, and plenty of tension to go around, don’t miss this series.  And if you have to read just one of the series, make it Raven’s Rise.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Book Review: Forever and a Night Dark Experiments by Lana Campbell

Twilight meets Grey’s Anatomy

Romance continues to be the most popular literary genre according to most surveys, with paranormal romance being a prevalent subgenre.  Mystery/thriller/suspense tends to come in second.  So how could you go wrong with a Paranormal Romance Mystery?  With a love affair between Tiffany Peebles, a human, and Dr. Christian La Mond, a vampire, in the midst of attacks by an unknown serial killer, that’s exactly where I’d put Forever and a Night Dark Experiments by Lana Campbell.

The basic romance plot is fairly standard, with boy and girl experiencing a strong romantic attraction, then complications ensue – in this case, the girl feeling she doesn’t fit in the boy’s world and that he deserves better.  And the rest of the romance story is them trying to overcome that hurdle.  There is additional spice, of course, as we’re talking about a human and a vampire, so we have twice the suggestive scenes, some of which are rather explicit but always done tastefully.  Running parallel to this story is a good murder mystery.  It’s intense, especially considering the targets of the killer and the author provides a couple of good twists.  In fact, for me, this was the best part of the book – it gave the story an edge that kept me turning the pages.

Christian La Mond as the vampire doctor is a bit stereotypic in everything but his species.  He’s the ruggedly ‘beautiful,’ transplanted Texan in cowboy boots and pickup truck.  Tiffany, on the other hand, is anything but stereotypic.  As a self-described computer nerd, one might think quiet and socially inept.  She is, in a way, but she also has a temper, is an outdoor sports enthusiast, has a sharp tongue, and is somewhat self-centered and emotion-driven in her initial reactions to situations (later retracting her outbursts).  Her maturation is one of the main themes of the story and is quite well done.

There are a few areas where this book could be improved.  First, there are some minor editing issues – sentences with missing words, words used incorrectly, and the like.  These are, as I said, minor, but have a tendency to pull you out of the make-believe world for a moment to reconcile them.  Second, on a more technical level, melding two different genres is always tricky, and there are places where the romance and the suspense in this book seem to clash.  Romantic shenanigans in the same setting as a killing spree requires some delicate balancing.  There is also some unnecessary repetition and a little tightening of dialog and plot would have helped the pacing.

Overall, if you’re looking for a Paranormal Romance Mystery, with some solid roots in the mystery genre and some interesting character development, Forever and a Night Dark Experiments is worth the read.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book Review: The Box of Tricks by Alistair Potter

Witty Sci-Fi with a Message

The Box of Tricks has the mind-boggling technology one expects in a sci-fi book, along with the battle between good and evil.  But under all the expected sci-fi trappings, Alistair Potter still delivers well-developed characters and even a message to his readers, all wrapped in humor and wit.

The story centers around Tom Mathers, a mild-mannered, somewhat socially inept taxi driver from Edinburgh.  Thrust into his strange new reality, Tom matures.  But even by the end of the book, his timidity is often the appropriate trait and common sense is generally the correct tactic.  Other than a strong sense of loyalty to friends and a desire to do right, Tom was an everyday hero, and I appreciated that fact.  Romantic interest Suzie and co-protagonist Fanshawe also come across as believable, although toward the riskier end of the scale.

Pacing is also excellent.  The author moves steadily through challenges revealed, skirmishes waged, and alliances formed, saving a few unexpected twists for the end.  The aptness of the pacing is also apparent in Potter’s treatment of his social message about our stewardship of the planet.  It would be easy for that message to become overbearing…but it doesn’t.  The author maintains a velocity that keeps us engrossed and entertained.

I wouldn’t say the book is a laugh-a-minute tome – what American reader would say that about British humor?  But it does have a tongue-in-cheek witticism that was very appealing.  If you want to take the possible end of planet earth completely seriously, you may need to look elsewhere.

Overall, The Book of Tricks felt like storytelling at its best, with solid characters, good pacing, a touch of humor, and a broader message.  It’s well worth the read.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

RIP Chuck Berry

Rock 'n' Roll pioneer Chuck Berry died on March 18, 2017, at the age of 90 in his home outside of St. Louis, MO.

Goodreads Giveaway Ends March 20

Last chance.  Enter to win one of two signed, proof copies of In the Space of an Atom - a fast paced thriller, with a bit of science and a touch of romance.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Review: Ice Rift: An Action Adventure Sci-Fi Horror set in Antarctica by Ben Hammott

A ‘Slasher Film’ in Book Form

As I was reading Ice Rift, I kept thinking it had a number of similarities to a ‘slasher film.’  In particular, I was thinking of that scene where the so-to-be-victims are deciding if they should hide in the basement, when that is exactly where the psychotic killer does his thing.  And you keep thinking, don’t go to the basement, don’t go to the basement…and of course, they all go to the basement.  In this case, I was thinking, don’t go into that alien space ship with the malfunctioning door…but they all go in.  Could you really expect anything good to happen after that?

Of course, there are differences between this book and a slasher film, one of the prime being that instead of a single, psychotic killer, you have waves and waves of man-eating, space aliens.  And therein lies one of my concerns I had about this book – pacing.  It was over-paced with space-monster attacks for most of the story.  The constant parade of odd-looking, yet consistently predatory aliens made me numb after a while – almost to the point of chuckling when a new variant appeared.  Even the strangest, most bloodthirsty monsters can become repetitive.  And like one of the characters in the story, I started wondering, where are the cuddly puppies and kittens?  I will give the author credit, however.  He did come up with some ingenious ways for these various species to kill their prey.

The theme of near constant human-alien battle made character development problematic.  Whenever the scientists trapped inside the ship paused to reflect on life or the wonders of the technology or each other, it seemed grossly out of place.  Is this really what they would do in the 30 seconds between narrow escapes?  A budding romance between two characters seemed particularly strained to the point of breaking – I don’t think the bulk of the plot left any room for sex.

There were a few issues in the writing – typos, grammar, etc. – but not many that I noticed.  Sentence structure in places was unusual and the dialog seemed quite stiff on occasion.  But overall, the book was well written.  It is written as third person, allowing looks inside the heads of the characters.  But interestingly, once or twice, the reader was given a peek inside the mind of the main, space-alien ‘villain.’  Personally, I wished the author had either used that technique more or not at all, because the limited use was jarring and left a inconsistent picture of this being.

Overall, readers who enjoy slasher-type stories, recast in a space-alien setting will like Ice Rift, unless the constant parade of monsters wears too thin.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Book Review: A Meeting of Clans: A Misfits and Heroes Adventure by Kathleen Flanagan Rollins

Realism with Touches of Mysticism in a Great Story

A Meeting of Clans is the story of two groups of pre-historic wanderers (clans) who discover they are not the only people in Southern Mexico 14,000 years ago, and what happens when they discover each other. 

As I read the book, there were a number of ‘isms’ that came to my mind, including realism, mysticism, and empiricism.  First and foremost, the book tries to give a realistic picture of life 14,000 years ago.  Today, we have to dodge traffic and avoid our boss when he/she is in a bad mood.  The individuals in this book had to dodge stampeding mastodons and avoid hungry saber-toothed tigers.  The world has changed, just a bit, and Rollins does a great job in describing the nature of those differences.  But she does so in a way that also reveals some significant parallels to modern-day life – a drive to understand and control, a need to belong, a drive to explore.

The book is also sprinkled with magic and mysticism.  In some cases, the myths are well-known; in others, they are less common but with a familiar feel.  And they add a spice to the story.  The author is giving us a view into the minds of these peoples and the ways they perceived the world.  (Unless, of course, you believe these events really happened as described.)

But the ‘ism’ that captured my thoughts in A Meeting of Clans is empiricism, e.g., the role of systematic observation in the formation of ideas.  It is a matter of academic debate exactly what science and medicine the peoples of the Ice Age would have mastered – even the possibility that humans inhabited this region 14,000 years ago is not known with certainty.  But Rollins weaves an interesting story around clans with considerable skills ranging from medicine and dentistry to astronomy.  Would people of this era have these skills?  Or would they still be so focused on meeting their biological and safety needs that no one could devote the time needed to understand the movement of the stars?  Would someone with a broken leg be nursed back to health or would they be abandoned because they put too great a strain on the group?

Finally, as this book is part of a series, I’ll mention that this novel is self-contained and so, you could read it without reading the previous books.  However, as someone who read one of the two previous books, I can say that I felt much more comfortable with the clan that I knew from the previous reading compared to the peoples that were new to me.  The familiarity gets you into the story more quickly.

A book such as this in the magical realism genre may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if it’s yours (or you want to dip your toe into this literary style), I can recommend A Meeting of Clans as a well-written and engrossing example.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Goodreads Giveaway - In the Space of an Atom

Goodreads Book Giveaway

In the Space of An Atom by Bruce M.  Perrin

In the Space of An Atom

by Bruce M. Perrin

Giveaway ends March 20, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

A Perfect Day to Write

After a high temperature of 76 degrees F (24 C) on Thursday, St. Louis woke up to snow and 28 degrees F (-2 C) this morning.  Now we're just wondering what we did to anger Mother Nature...

Happy writing,

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Book Review: The Body on the Barstool by Lolli Powell

The Body on the Barstool is a cozy mystery about Ricki Fontaine’s discovery of her dead ex-husband one morning in her bar and her efforts to find the killer.

Writers of cozy mysteries forego two of the primary marketing draws of many books – sex and violence – putting more pressure on…well, everything else.  The Body on the Barstool delivers on all these fronts. 

The pacing and suspense are good, as Ricki moves from suspect to suspect, never really letting the reader settle on anyone.  As I tried to out-guess the author, I found myself suspecting just about everyone before the truth came out.  Development of the setting is excellent.  I felt like I could draw a map of small-town Ohio where the story was set.  Character development was also strong.  As the story is first person, all the quirks and idiosyncrasies of Ricki, in particular, come to life.  And she has a few.

But the aspect of this story that really sold me was the humor.  Sense of humor is idiosyncratic, but the author hit mine perfectly – Ricki’s sardonic view of herself, her friends, and her world kept me laughing until the very end.  If you can read how Ricki felt about crying in public or her description of the police detective investigating the case and not at least smile, you’re a tougher audience than I am.
So, if you are a fan of cozy mysteries, and especially if you like characters with a somewhat sarcastic view of life, you’ll enjoy The Body on the Barstool.  I know I did.

Friday, March 3, 2017



Jeremy Reynolds has been listless for a while.  First, his girlfriend dumped him and he was in a funk.  Then, he quit his job.  Yes, Jeremy was doing little and caring less.  But recently, he has found something that energizes him, something that gives him direction.  It’s called…running for his life.  And after he accidentally involves beautiful Diane Stapleton, MD, the two of them match wits with the killer, in chases that take place where no one else has been…in the space of an atom.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: The God’s Eye View by Barry Eisler

Theme:  A; Character development:  C

At the center, The God’s Eye View is about balancing the government’s need to monitor its citizens in order to deter terrorism and the rights of the individual to privacy.  There are, of course, any number of these balancing acts in our daily lives – in medical research, in the use of military power, in the use of force in policing, and so on.  But the monitoring vs. privacy tug-of-war will continue to gain momentum as time goes on due to the meteoric rise of surveillance technology.  It is, quite simply, a theme for the times and for the future, and for that reason alone, The God’s Eye View is a worthwhile read.

Of course, the author has the government, in the form of NSA Director Theodore Anders, so far beyond the point of equilibrium in this balancing act, there is never any question of government vs. individual.  It’s more a question of which individuals will live and which will die in Director Anders’ quest to keep his last technological marvel out of the public’s gaze.  Pitted against Anders is Evelyn Gallagher, the developer and primary analyst on NSA’s camera and facial recognition network, just one small cog in the overall NSA surveillance machine.  And with strict compartmentalization of information, Evie has no way to know just what she is up against.

The story is very well written, producing a fair amount of adrenaline in my bloodstream that served no purpose other than keeping me awake to the wee hours.  There were a couple of ideas that were somewhat overworked, e.g., Evie is a divorced, working mother who would do almost anything to protect her son.  But overall, the flow of the story was good.  For those who are squeamish, the violence is somewhat graphic, although consistent with the plot.  By comparison, the sex was also somewhat explicit, but I’m not sure what the grope-by-grope description did to further the story; it seemed out of place and serving no purpose beyond checking another box in a commercial success formula.

My primary concern with the book, however, was in the development of the characters.  Every author uses stereotypes as a crutch.  Readers immediately recognize the boring accountant or the timid librarian.  But usually, that method is reserved for secondary characters when depth is unnecessary, saving the author a lot of stress on the wrists.  But in The God’s Eye View, it felt as if there were few characters that were not primarily stereotypes.  It ended up feeling like a world inhabited by caricatures, rather than people.  But even so, that limitation did not outweigh a well-written plot and a timely theme.

Overall, The God’s Eye View is a solid read, significant because over time, technology-driven surveillance has the potential to give the government absolute power over the populace.  And we all know that if power tends to corrupt, what absolute power will do.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book Review: The Predator and The Prey by K.C. Sivils

The Hard-Boiled Genre Recast to Future, Outer Space

The Predator and The Prey is the story of police Inspector Thomas Sullivan’s efforts to catch a serial killer and stop the theft of living-saving medicine on a distant mining planet, Beta Prime, 200 years in the future.  If you’re familiar with the fictional characters of Philip Marlow, Mike Hammer, or Sam Spade, and you put one of them in a future, outer-space setting, then you have a pretty good idea of the feel of this book.

Like the characters from the hard-boiled literary genre mentioned above, Inspector Thomas Sullivan is an antihero, more interested in justice than the letter of the law.  He’s also damaged, riddled with remorse for his failures.  To accommodate a character like Sullivan, Beta Prime is not a sleek, technologically advanced world – his ‘lead with your fists, rather than your badge’ attitude would not fit easily in an advanced society.  Rather, Beta Prime is lawless and corrupt, again somewhat paralleling the typical setting of the hard-boiled genre – the 1920-30s prohibition era and organized crime.  For me, recasting the typical hard-boiled crime story into a future, outer-space setting worked quite well.

The book, however, did have a few shortcomings.  First, there were some small but quite persistent tics in the author’s writing.  Word repetition was particularly problematic.  At one point, the author uses the word ‘evil’ five times in six, consecutive sentences.  Certain themes and thoughts are also repeated unnecessarily.  Some occurrences of either of these minor missteps is understandable, but the frequency of them made staying immersed in the story difficult for me.

Second, the author tended to take what should have been subtle nuances in a character’s make up and push them to the point of breaking.  Sullivan’s tendency toward feeling remorse is one example.  By the end of the book, he is blaming himself for just about everything that goes wrong.  An initially complex character became distorted by unnecessary emphasis on one trait.  The character of the serial killer took a similar route, as he seems almost supernatural by the end.

The interested reader should also note that this book contains somewhat graphic violence against children.
So, for fans longing for the days of Philip Marlow, Mike Hammer, and Sam Spade, you may be able to satisfy that urge with The Predator and The Prey, if you’re not easily distracted by minor writer’s tics and some rather heavy-handed character development.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

THANKS – Kindle Scout Campaign Completed

The Kindle Scout Campaign for In the Space of an Atom is over.  I really appreciate all the kind words of support, all the likes and +1s, all the new followers.  The post even generated a few political comments that gave me a chuckle...

“All <insert name of political party here> brains would fit in the space of an atom, no offense to the author, pun intended. LOL
And of course, thanks to everyone who nominated the book during the campaign.  I hope you end up winning a free copy.  The current expected release date is the second week of March, so watch for the announcement.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Movie: True Memoirs of an International Assassin (2016) with Kevin James, Kim Coates, and Maurice Compte

No, don’t touch that mouse.  You’re at the right spot.  I’m still writing.  My posts are still (mostly) about my books and book reviews.  But today, it’s a movie – a movie, of course, about a writer.

So, let’s get this whole rating thing out of the way, right off the bat.  True Memoirs is an OK movie.  It’s 5.9 out of 10 on IMDb, it received 43% positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, got an average rating of 3.9 out of 5 on Netflix.  But the first five minutes of it had me rolling on the floor.  You see, the movie starts with the author, Kevin James, working on a book.  He gets to a fight scene where he can’t make up his mind – is it going to be fists?  Knives?  Guns?  And while he’s making up his mind, his fictional characters are sitting around, drinking coffee, working on their tans. 

I don’t quite see my characters when I’m not writing a scene, but what I do see – and what made this part of the movie so funny to me – is all the different variations on actions, dialog, gestures, and facial expressions that I go through before I settle on one.  Does my hero grimace here?  He was just frowning.  And of course, my brow furrows at that point.  I could say I was concentrating, trying to find the right word.  But truthfully, I was thinking, he looks like this.  Now, how do you put that into words?  All the slumping in my chair, pounding my forehead with the palm of my hand, shrugging with my palms up – it’d be funny to watch me as I write…or maybe, it would be a bit scary?

I’ve also had the experience of being so involved with the trees of gestures and innuendo and the like that I missed the forest.  I had one scene that I worked several times trying to get the interaction between the primary male and female characters just right.  He was making breakfast.  She had just come downstairs from the bedroom in her PJs.  (And no, he had slept downstairs on the couch – you’re getting ahead in the story).  Anyway, there was all this light, playful banter, teasing and shy smiles, mock exasperation and laughter.  And after breakfast, they jump in the car and leave.  It was one of my trusty beta readers that pointed out that my female lead had just gone to the store in her PJs.  Yeah, but I nailed their gestures.

Happy Writing,

Friday, February 10, 2017

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Who is your favorite fictional couple, and why?

This question showed up in my ‘Ask the Author’ queue on Goodreads a couple of days ago, and admittedly, I was about to hit the ‘skip’ button.  After all, this is a soft lob right in the wheelhouse of the Romance authors for Valentine’s Day.  What do I know, writing techno-thrillers?

In fact, I have more than one book review where I poke some fun at the stereotypic couple in the thriller genre.  You know the type.  The damsel in distress is six-sigma on some specialized skill that most of us have only the foggiest notion about, like quantum physics or nanotechnology.  (And those of you who don’t have statistics as a second language, six sigma means something that happens once every 1.38 million years, or about twice in the history of humankind – that’s pretty rare.)  But she still manages to be compassionate and, of course, beautiful.  Across from her is the male, who is almost equally unique in his skill set, which tends to run to combat skills and/or investigative techniques.  Yes, these couples make for a fun read…but they’re not exactly the grist for a lasting love story.

But I’ve been known to read outside my writing genre, and yes, there is a couple that has long stuck in my memory – Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.  I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald sometime in high school…meaning many years ago.  And there was something about that book that stuck with me.  It could have been the mystery surrounding Jay.  It could be that he threw the most awesome parties of all time.  But I have to believe that it was Jay’s obsession with Daisy that got lodged in my memory for all time.  Of course, F. Scott has to also throw us what in the thriller genre would be ‘the twist.’  In this case, after Jay finally wins Daisy back – after a lifelong, unwavering quest – he admits that the relationship wasn’t all that he expected. 

I didn’t see that one coming.

Happy Writing (and Reading),

Photo by Eva Rinaldi [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Book Review: Wired by Douglas Richards

A Fun Read…but Maybe Too Much Voila Science

Wired is story of brilliant genetic engineer Kira Miller, who is accused of a diabolical bioterror plot, and ex-special forces operative David Desh, who is tasked with finding and stopping her.
Let me jump right to the conclusion.  If you’re a fan of fast-paced thrillers with plenty of twists, you’ll like Wired.  The novel is one of Richards’ first books and follows a formula that he repeats later, i.e., a world-changing technology developed for altruistic reasons has a dark side and the protagonist(s) must find a way to make sure it is not used for evil.  But even so, Richards puts a great deal into this novel besides the pace and twists – a bit of romance, some thought-provoking science, and even some light philosophy (meaning of life, existence of God kinds of topics).
Several other reviews have mentioned the lack of depth in the characters, and true, the author does use what has become the techno-thriller stereotypes – a scientist years if not generations ahead of his/her peers and a special forces/military/spy type, also far superior to his peers in his combat/investigative skills.  Yes, this kind of combination is a bit trite, but it still makes for some fun reading from time to time.  And Richards does it well.
For me, the primary downside of this book was its use of what I’ve called voila science – something so far removed from current theory and research as to make anything possible.  Yes, Richards’ twists are very good, but if you step back and consider the possibilities arising from the technology, there are countless others that were also possible and equally surprising.  In effect, when anything is possible, nothing is surprising.  But giving Richards his due, he does pick an interesting path through the alternatives.
I would suggest that if you want a good introduction to Douglas Richards’ work, this is a great place to start.  Fun, fast, full of twists…and some material to think about as well.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Book Review: Darktown by Thomas Mullen

A Solid Mystery Set in the Pre-Civil Rights South

Set in 1948 Atlanta, Darktown is the story of two of that city’s first black police officers (Boggs and Smith) who investigate the death of a young black woman when no else seemed to care.  In the process, they run afoul of Dunlow, a brutal, racist white officer, while Rakestraw, Dunlow’s young partner, seems caught in the middle in this confrontation.

Darktown’s depiction of the life of blacks at this time and place is, simply put, gut-wrenching.  White officers are free to abuse the law, and the excesses that are portrayed are difficult to read.  But it is, in my opinion, worth the emotional effort.  Layered on top of this taut look at race and the law is a murder mystery.  While the core of the mystery seemed a bit predictable, Mullen added enough twists in the details to make it a worthy addition to the historical setting. 

The pacing was good, although I have to admit to some difficulty getting started.  Early on, the book seemed to be disconnected anecdotes and loosely related asides.  But soon the threads came together and the tension ramped up considerably.  The final dozen or so chapters are particularly action-filled and tension-producing, with one exception.  Mullen added one scene that seems to mislead the reader, and it felt somewhat cheap in the midst of an excellent finish.  But otherwise, it was a fully, white-knuckle finale.

Overall, I'd suggest readers prepare themselves for some emotionally difficult reading and then, by all means, make the effort.  It's an excellent book.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

When 4 Comes Before 3

Every time I’m paging through my folders, navigating to the manuscript for In the Space of an Atom, I hesitate when I have to choose between the one named Book 3 and one named Book 4.  That’s because Atom was supposed to be book 4…and it won’t be.
In the Space of an Atom is currently listed on Kindle Scout (and if you haven’t already, you can nominate it here for a chance to win:  But win or lose in Kindle Scout, this book should be out in about 6-8 weeks.
Retroscape of a Future Mind, on the other hand, was supposed to be book 3, but it’s probably 4-5 months from release.  What happened?  Something I never expected.  My beta readers agreed on a concern!
Usually, I get one reader saying something like your villain made no impression on me, while another says, I absolutely hated that guy.  But on Retroscape, five of my six readers all made the same comment.  That alone, of course, wouldn’t necessarily delay release.  I mean, if they all said, ‘you know, Retroscape isn’t a word,’ which several did, I’d just go ahead because that’s intentional.  But their concern involved a rather central scene.  The scene’s so important, in fact, that I’m in the process of not only changing it, but the characters and some of the story.  Even the title will be changing.
So, what did I learn from this situation?  That’s easy.  If I don’t want to waste those few precious seconds finding my files, I shouldn’t name my folders with numbers…because the rest of this story is just part of writing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mystery Thriller Week 2017

When the Mystery Thriller Week event came along, I had to join in - that's my genre.  Check out the Calendar of Events using the link on the right. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Book Review: Too Close For Comfort (Knight & Culverhouse) by Adam Croft

Too Close Makes the Story Too Limited

Too Close for Comfort is the story of DS Wendy Knight’s investigation into a serial killer who, according to the title and the author’s synopsis is ‘too close for comfort.’

In general, the story is well paced.  Of course, if you are going to find a serial killer who is on a one-victim-per-day killing spree in 182 pages, you’ll have to keep moving.  The dialog was good.  For the American reading audience, you’ll need to do a few mental translations and brush up on British law enforcement acronyms, like DS.  I found most online, but was stumped by a few.  Nonetheless, the intent was always clear.

Character development could have used some work, as what we were told about people often seemed at odds with their behavior.  For example, in the first few pages, Knight’s reaction upon hearing she is part of a murder investigation seems inexplicable given what we were told of her aspirations and life history.  I also found some of the characters’ interactions strained.  The friction between Knight and Culverhouse, in particular, was much more than good-natured workplace ribbing, to the point of being dysfunctional and juvenile in places.  But for me, the greatest limitation in the book was the level of the mystery/suspense/tension.  It was low.  Knowing that the serial killer is close, and having a protagonist whose attachments you can count on one hand – and use only two of your fingers doing so – gives the author little latitude to create tension.

Overall, Too Close for Comfort is a quick read with good action and pacing, but you’ll need to deal with some predictability and some inconsistencies in character development.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Book Review: Everest Rising by M.D. Kambic

Everest Rising is the story of geophysicist James Von Kamburg and a team of scientists who travel to the Himalayas in an attempt to understand why Mt. Everest seems to be rising, among other unusual phenomena observed in the region.

The novel is noteworthy in its aim to combine science and philosophy, and in particular, metaphysics, in a single, thought-provoking, beginning-of-a-new-reality technothriller.  Consistent that aim, the author provides some highly descriptive text, particularly in the last third of the book, for the birth of that new age.  That writing task alone is daunting.  But while the author’s efforts to depict a new order are admirable, I found several distractions in his style.  First, he tends to overuse technical jargon and flowery prose.  People ‘cogitate’ rather than think and when someone dies, they are ‘losing synaptic energy.’  Some unique turns of a phrase make for great reading, but to go for them continually makes parts of this book ponderous.  Also, separate thoughts are often combined with one embedded in another with dashes – a writer’s tic for this author – making parsing of the sentences difficult.  Some additional respect for the simple, declarative sentence would have helped.

The characters of James Von Kamburg and Jared Griffon were well defined, if somewhat unidimensional.  James was the scientist blinded by a single passion and Jared was the win at all costs businessman.  Maggie, James’ wife, was more complex as she seemed in some ways to parallel the story’s theme – a student in science who turned to art and whose visions/dreams became primary elements in the story.  These three also formed something of a love triangle in a backstory that was extensive, yet seemed to add little to the primary plotline.

The objective of intertwining science and metaphysics is obviously ambitious, and for me, the book fell short, primarily because the plot became much more reliant on the metaphysics than the science.  It was, by the end, a new reality with new laws of physics triggered by a “mechanism buried since the beginning of time” (author’s synopsis).  There is a smattering of modern technology from fields like seismology, geology, geophysics, and the like, but these tools had virtually nothing to do with the story.  And while concepts like dark matter and transuranic elements are mentioned, there is no consistent scientific thread driving the narrative.  While I have little background for this claim, I believe the goals related to philosophy were more fully met.  If the story didn’t call into question the very meaning of existence, it at least significantly blurred the distinction between being alive and not.

In the end, Everest Rising rests heavily on an analogy between what is happening to the earth and what happens to living organisms, and whether this analogy is thought-provoking or only mildly entertaining fantasy probably depends on where you fall in the space between applied science and metaphysics.