the Meske Review

THE BEST OF FUNDS for WRITERS, VOL. 1

Author: C. Hope Clark
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: C. Hope Clark/FundsforWriters
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Find Online: Amazon; Goodreads

Summary: “FundsforWriters is internationally known for its level-headed yet tough-love advice to writers, both burgeoning and seasoned. Recognize by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for over 15 years, the site serves up plates full of motivation also delivered in the weekly newsletter to 35,000 readers. The Best of FundsforWriters, Volume 1, offers 32 essays and how-to strategies that struck positive chords with readers around the globe.” — from the website of author C. Hope Clark.

I was given this book by the author in exchange for a review. Having said that, I found this book to be a very informative tool, and an excellent resource to add to my shelves as a professional writer and author. While I was admittedly surprised by several typographical errors (mostly in spacing and formatting), I easily moved past them and noted several key tips for my own writing pursuits. I particularly enjoyed the analogy of the osprey–it was a reminder I needed to hear right now as I am at a tipping point in my career and trying to decide my next moves. I also enjoyed learning about the Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow, a place I did not know even existed but one I may try to emulate as a part of my whole vision and business plan myself. As I said, some very useful resources are outlined throughout the book, but also are prompts to get a writer thinking outside the box. An excellent resource, and one I highly recommend to all writers.

Even with some minor editing errors, The Best of Funds for Writers, Volume 1 earns 5 out of 5 starsrating starrating starrating starrating star


So instead of spending my Memorial Day 2017 weekend working, writing up my news assignments like I most often do, I decided to spend most of the weekend at the beach in Edisto, South Carolina. I planted myself right in the middle of murder and mayhem, alongside police chief Callie Jean Morgan, who had only stepped into the job months earlier.

Vicariously anyway, that is. Having just received my review copy earlier this week of C. Hope Clark’s newest book, Edisto Stranger, I still had the review copy of her Echoes of Edisto waiting to be read as well. So, I let the sand squish under my toes, and let the water wash over them.

EDISTO STRANGER

Author: C. Hope Clark
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Publisher: BellBridge Books
Release Date: May 26, 2017
Find Online: Amazon; Goodreads

A 2017 murder mystery by C. Hope Clark and published by Bell Bridge Books, Edisto Stranger has a timely storyline, reminiscent in some ways of the real-life abduction story of Elizabeth Smart back in 2002. Clark’s victim, however, is taken at a much younger age and grows to young adulthood before knowing of her real story.

Edisto Beach Police Chief Callie Morgan, still recovering after tragedy strikes her heart again, seeks solace as usual at the bottom of a bottle or glass in this fourth book of the Edisto series. This is something that, by the book’s end, is hopefully the one weakness Callie will soon overcome. And hopefully before her son Jeb develops his own.

Maternal instincts kick in repeatedly as you turn the page, and it’s good to read that Jeb is alive and well—and still with Sprite—at the end of the final chapter. Other characters in the book roll out somewhat predictably as the story moves forward and Callie works to solve the latest murder on the beach.

Overall, I enjoyed the storyline and the development of each character as their lives interplayed. But admittedly, I left the last page ever so slightly disappointed. I found the motive behind “Emma’s” abduction to be a bit tired, and the murderer’s character to be a bit predictable.

All in all, however, I am now left wondering if Callie will have a new role, with or within the FBI.

Given as an advance review copy by the author, I give Edisto Stranger 4 out of 5 stars.     rating starrating starrating star

ECHOES OF EDISTO

Author: C. Hope Clark
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Publisher: BellBridge Books
Release Date: August 5, 2016
Find Online: Amazon; Goodreads

Published by Bell Bridge Books in 2016, this was another of Clark’s writings that I just couldn’t put down. Third in her Edisto Island series, Clark continues to develop the character of Callie Morgan to be strong, despite every reason to be weakened from the minutes of her everyday life. She does struggle with maintaining her strength, and seeks solace a bit too often from the bottom of a bottle or glass.

Giving Clark kudos for her subtle tie-in of her other book series, the Carolina Slade mysteries, with her reference point of Palmetto Road, the questions I am left with after reading Echoes of Edisto are many.

After losing again, I first wonder if Callie will ever get to experience a lifetime love? I also worry about what kind of man Callie’s son Jeb will turn out to be, especially after all he has been exposed to already.

I had a hard time accepting who was killed by the bad guy, and an equally hard time accepting who the bad guy was. But my bias on the identity of the bad guy could just arise from my predilection for the vocation. I’m a bit partial!

Learning that Miss Promise was doing much more than helping with Callie’s mother, Beverly’s, election was another surprise cropping up on the pages. The intertwining of the lives between Callie, the parents that raised her, Sarah, and Brice was something that came across like an undetected rip tide. And now that Callie’s former boss Stan has made his way to the beach, what will happen next?

Given as an advance review copy by the author, I give Echoes of Edisto 5 out of 5 stars.rating starrating starrating starrating star


THE CURSE MANDATE

the-curse-mandate-book-coverAuthor: J.P. Sloan
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Occult & Supernatural, Paranormal, Supernatural Thrillers, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Release Date: December 2016
Find Online: Amazon; Goodreads

Still searching for his own soul, Dorian Lake is also still locked in a battle against the Dark Choir. In this third book of the series, Lake also has a pupil to train and a bar to run while also trying to secure his own soul before evil itself does.

Soon after the departure of too many close to home, Lake is beckoned by certain members of the Presidium to out the enemy, and the new Deputy Mayor taps him to investigate a string of occult crimes. All of this seems to be on the verge of plunging America into a lawless era of time not seen since the Dark Ages. Jefferson, Washington, and even L’Enfant play a role as this story unfolds.

Personally piqued is my curiosity when Lake refers to a multiple alarm fire being described by a reporter as it takes place in Harper’s Ferry, W. Va., as I lived there just a couple of years ago when that actually happened. The reporter says that several historical buildings were engulfed in flames. Lake noted that this, “Seemed tragic.” While Lake’s version says that it started at the Harper’s Ferry Preservation Society’s Old Miller’s Hall, with a cause of old and faulty wiring, the real version I witnessed started elsewhere, with the cause different, but in fact several historical buildings were engulfed in flames.

For those of us who enjoy the believability behind the fictionalized theories popularly put forth with lights shed by author Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code, Angels & Demons, etc.) and now again by J.P. Sloan regarding the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Presidium, this is another must-read. In fact, the entire three-book Dark Choir series by Sloan is one for your library shelves…

My only complaint is that it ended too soon and left me eager for the next one, with too many unanswered questions …

Overall rating:

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(5 out of 5 stars)


ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW

Escape from Witchwood Hollow Book CoverAuthor: Jordan Elizabeth Mierek
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Release Date: October 2014
Find Online: Amazon; Goodreads

After losing her parents in a horrific terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, fifteen-year-old Honoria and her older brother escape the memories of New York City and learn to live with their aunt and uncle in the small, rural community of Arnn.

Their new home and their new hometown house a troubled history, however, full of secrets and unanswered questions.

One well-kept secret to outsiders is quickly revealed to Honoria—the legend of Witchwood Hollow. It is the lure of that legend along with its dark and enveloping forest and its resident witch where Honoria finds hope when she should be afraid.

The story unfolds with vivid descriptors authenticating strongly believable settings and realistic dialogue. Considered a read primarily for young adults, the appeal is there for all who enjoy the mystery and fantasy genres. As I turned the pages, I felt as though I had been taken back to my high school years and shared many of those same emotions as did Honoria.

With characters who are survivors and victims of the 9/11 attacks on American soil, this story is made even more intriguing because of the passion we all have about those events and days.

Added to this already captivating storyline are the narratives of victims and families from other centuries who have all ventured into the Hollow, encountered the spiritual forces within, and never returned. The reader is able to move back and forth throughout the time periods and easily build the connective web from character to character, which also lends itself to the fascination within this book as well.

My only complaint is that, at just 178 pages, it ended too soon! Meanwhile, I am looking forward to perusing some of the author’s two-dozen plus books…

The Meske Review:

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(4 1/2  out of 5 stars)


 

GIULIA GOES TO WAR
(Legacy of Honor, Book One)

Author: Joan Leotta
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing Inc.
Release Date: July 2012
Find Online: Amazon; Goodreads

“I remember the morning after Pearl Harbor, Mama and Papa went downstairs to the store and put away all of the little Italian flags…” – Giulia

 

A creative look at Americana through an Italian viewfinder, the story this author shares with all of us is one that exposes us to the realities of life for both the younger and the older alike in the United States during World War II. We were living in a country during a time where patriotism superseded discrimination; service to country and a united homefront regardless of heritage was desired as much as it was expected.

With a mixture of their Italian, Greek and American cultures, each character in the story represents someone we might have known or someone we might have heard stories about from our parents.

The main character, Giulia, is ultimately brave enough to defy her Italian heritage and traditions and follow her heart’s desires, despite her parents’ absent blessings. Breaking from the protective culture from which her parents came, Giulia pursues life and love much as the leading character in her favorite novel, Gone with the Wind, while sharing a deep relationship based on respect with her mother…and her father…

The story itself is well told, with vivid descriptors authenticating strongly developed settings and realistic dialogue. Noted among these details are cousin Tony’s spotter cards along with the Italian dialect and the Greek food dishes that were indicative of the traditions of generations past. I certainly look forward to continuing this journey back through the past during an important but perhaps a bit simpler time in our country through the pages of the other two books in this series.

The Meske Review:    rating starrating starrating star (4 out of 5 stars)

 


THE THIRD HAUNTING

The Third Haunting Book CoverAuthor: Matthew J. Gracon
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Create Space
Release Date: November 2015
Find Online: Amazon; Goodreads

“As I bolted for the front door I could hear a woman’s scream from inside the house, I didn’t look back and leaped from the porch.”
– Janet

 

Romance with a mix of mystery and mysticism is the best way to describe this story. While this had all the makings of a typical love story, it also had all the elements of a murder mystery. Added to this was an ending that makes the reader anxious to jump into the next book in the series and find out just what happened to Celeste.

Janet Ilgetis is the main character of the story—she is a lead bank teller with a life full of both fortunate and unfortunate events topped off by her fiancée’s murder a few years earlier. With the prodding of her best friend Lilly, Janet has an encounter with psychic Celeste at the Portal House that raises too many questions for one person’s comfort.

Overall, the story was an enjoyable one to read. However, you cannot miss noticing an ongoing issue with grammar, punctuation and word choice. As an author, editor and professional writer, it was even more pronounced to me. The author could have benefitted greatly from further professional editing. I am compelled to mention this because it may be found to be too distracting or confusing for some readers.

The story itself is well told, with vivid descriptors, strongly developed settings and realistic dialogue. I would certainly consider reading more of this series and this author’s works.

The Meske Review:

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(3 1/2  out of 5 stars)


EDISTO JINX

edisto-jinx

Author:  C. Hope Clark
Genre:  Mystery, Thriller and Suspense
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Release Date: October 2015
Find Online:  Amazon; Goodreads

“It’s a death month…I can’t feel alone in my own house anymore.”– Sophie

 

Once again, C. Hope Clark has given us a whodunit that leads you along one line in the sand…only to find out there’s actually a completely different set of footprints alongside the shore.

Callie Morgan is back in this second installment of the author’s Edisto Island Mystery series…back in the middle of the chaos, back under the microscope for all her neighbors to scrutinize, and as you might expect, back on the case.

Acting Chief Seabrook reaches out to Callie (in more ways than one), and the jinx that has subliminally lived off the lives and nerves of Edisto Island’s tourists and its residents every summer for the past 10 years finally gets cast in the limelight.

The descriptors used by the author throughout the book were ideally vivid, easy and realistic…leading the reader’s imagination through each scene, shot by shot, but still allowing for one’s personal touches to the imagery within their own minds. The plot twist was also well orchestrated…I firmly believed I knew whodunit all the way until the true culprit was finally revealed. Boy was I surprised!

As the book comes to a close, Callie’s career once more takes a surprising turn as well and I’m already ready to hold the next book in my hand…

The Meske Review:

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(4 1/2  out of 5 stars)


ALICE TAKES BACK WONDERLAND

Alice Takes Back Wonderland

Author:  David D. Hammons
Genre:  Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling
Publisher:  Curiosity Quills Press
Release Date: September 28, 2015
Find Online:  Goodreads

“Time is relative…Maybe this is a past, or a future that won’t happen.” – Alice

 

Really not my thing, I have to be honest. A cross connection of fairy tales and fantastical stories, this is a story where Alice in Wonderland meets Peter Pan and the Lost Boys of Neverland; with Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Pinocchio thrown into the story line for good measure.

All the expected characters still play their parts in the story line, including the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and of course Alice. The Queen of Hearts still shouts, “Off with her head!” The twist to this story comes in that Alice’s family is a part of it, and that Alice is portrayed as a girl suffering from schizophrenia and ADHD.

The story takes us through Alice’s life as she experiences it before and after meds. She makes her way through Wonderland via Lew’s Drive-Thru in Strafford, Missouri before she lands in Neverland and Peter’s arms. Although this story was too fantastical for my tastes, it was nonetheless well-written and for those into this genre, it is a definite addition for your “to-read” shelf.

The author empowers his words to show how love can make you do things you once refused to do, like grow up…

The Meske Review:    rating starrating starrating star (4 out of 5 stars)


HAPPINESS, NEXT EXIT

Author:  Anthony Mathenia
Genre: 
Religious & Inspirational Fiction/Christian;
Romance/Contemporary
Publisher:  Curiosity Quills Press
Release Date:  August 24, 2015
Find Online:  Amazon | Goodreads

“I think our harshest judgment was for ourselves. I never felt like I could measure up to all their expectations.”
– Rose Tiffany-Lynn Gluck-True

Book Summary:

Reading the ways of the Jehovah’s Witnesses turned out to be surprisingly disturbing, which also means that this story had life once lived laced throughout each page and chapter. The author, as a former and first-hand Witness, did an excellent job moving me from page to page. It is a well-written work and a true romantic read for the religious fiction genre.

A solid full circle drawn from the story’s beginning to its end, disfellowshipped JW Rose Gluck is ultimately proven to be a greater Witness to God’s work as she brings final comfort to Jasper Greer. Greer, the once uncompromising Elder of Kingdom Hall, had led the charge to ban Rose and Brother True from the Hall and all who entered there years earlier just had happened to the first Rose before her.

In life and in love, sometimes standing up for your convictions is worth being “convicted.”

The Meske Review:    rating starrating starrating star (4 out of 5 stars)

Personal Note: Having known the author professionally in my previous life, I was admittedly surprised to come across his name on Curiosity Quills Press’s list. I was further surprised to read that he has followed a similar path, bringing him to experience “almost heaven” in the Appalachians as well.


LACE UP (Book 1)

FEARLESS (Book 2)

(of the author’s Pretty Smart Girls series)

Author: Shae Ross
Genre: Contemporary Romance, New Adult
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Release Date:  2015
Cover Artist: Jessica Cantor
Find Online:  Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble

9781506047201_p0_v1_s118x184It’s all about the win, or maybe just playing the game is the real reward?

I received my advance review copy of Lace Up a few weeks ago, but I just had my first opportunity to open it up and take a look at what was inside over this weekend. Author Shae Ross did not disappoint!

The romance in this novel is steamy, but allows the reader enough latitude to imagine for themselves what is happening as the characters, Ryan and Jett, first meet, compete, and finally hook up.

Their hearts and their lives intertwine through a shared commonality that is far from expected as each learn the human side of their otherwise overbearing competitive spirits. Again, the author allows the layers of the characters to take you by surprise. Another definite and quick read for all my fellow romantics! 

9781943892181_p0_v1_s118x184Whip out your red lipstick, ladies! 

 I received my advance review copy of Fearless a few weeks ago, but today was my first opportunity to open it up and take a look at what was inside. Once again, author Shae Ross did not disappoint!

As romance novels go, it was just what you’d expect…girl meets guy, guy meets girl, they hate each other, then fall in love. The pheromones collide, the love scenes are HOT, and all ends happily ever after. However, the layers of the characters will take you by surprise in this one…Devi kicks butt fiercely and fearlessly while Ben cares for all the women in his life.

There’s just so much more to this story than what you’d ever expect…a definite read for all my fellow romantics!

The Meske Review:  rating starrating starrating star rating star (4 out of 5 stars for both)

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GAME OF LOVE

cover1000Author: Ara Grigorian
Genre: Contemporary Romance, New Adult

Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Re-Release Date: May 4, 2015
Cover Artist: Eugene Teplitsky
Find Online: Amazon | Amazon UK | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble

The only moment that counts is now. We’re better together than apart.

Book Summary:

Game of Love is set in the high-stakes world of professional tennis where fortune and fame can be decided by a single point. Gemma Lennon has spent nearly all of her 21 years focused on one thing: Winning a Grand Slam. After a disastrous and very public scandal and subsequent loss at the Australian Open, Gemma is now laser-focused on winning the French Open. Nothing and no one will derail her shot at winning – until a heated chance encounter with brilliant and sexy Andre Reyes threatens to throw her off her game.

Breaking her own rules, Gemma begins a whirlwind romance with Andre who shows her that love and a life off the court might be the real prize. With him, she learns to trust and love…at precisely the worst time in her career. The pressure from her home country, fans, and even the Prime Minister to be the first British woman to win in nearly four decades weighs heavily. As Wimbledon begins, fabricated and sensationalized news about them spreads, fueling the paparazzi, and hurting her performance. Now, she must reconsider everything, because in the high-stakes game of love, anyone can be the enemy within…even lovers and even friends.

In the Game of Love, winner takes all.

The Meske Review:    rating starrating starrating star (4 out of 5 stars)

Game of Love is a well-written contemporary romance novel that will appeal to all the diehard romantics in our world. “Courtship” takes on a new meaning in this game of love, as Gemma and Andre have been tainted by players of their pasts. As I read it, and then re-read it, the story to me was reminiscent of the big-screen love that comes to life after all avenues of resistance and denial were exhausted between the characters of Rachel Marin and Frank Farmer, portrayed by Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard. While known typically as a skeptic of the romance genre, this story of “Choices and action” gives me hope, and inspiration. I give it 4 out of 5 stars. To learn more about author Ara Grigorian or for more information about Curiosity Quills Press, click here.


 THE CURSE SERVANTcover2500

Title: The Curse Servant
Author: JP Sloan
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Release Date: February 26, 2015
Cover Artist: Conzpiracy Digital Arts
ISBN: 978-1-62007-822-8 (ebook)

“The one person standing between Hell…and an innocent girl…is a man without a soul.”

The second book in this series definitely does not disappoint! I was more than happy to read and review THE CURSE SERVANT, the second in the Dorian Lake series…the first of the series had surprisingly stayed in my hand from start until finish, as did this one.

Admittedly, I was invited to review the book by its publisher in exchange for a free e-copy, but I would have been thrilled to review it in any case. I never thought I would enjoy a book from the urban fantasy genre, let alone a series. But I guess you could say I’ve been hexed…

At just a bit over 300 pages, this book is a really easy, quick read. Don’t think for a minute however that each page isn’t full from top to bottom of attention-worthy text. It truly is well worth adding to your library.

In this second novel, Dorian Lake continues his work as a seller of “hexes and charms for select clientele” throughout the Baltimore area. He’s working closely with the incumbent mayor’s campaign manager to see that he is re-elected. Dorian’s job is to protect the mayor’s karma, but in the end he invests much more than a few bits of magic. Dorian’s encounters with McCarthy, a major challenge to Mayor Sullivan’s incumbency, are a welcome added spin to the storyline, as are Dorian’s intertwined interactions with his tenants.

Still jaded by the soul-sacrificing love he experienced in this book’s prequel (The Curse Merchant), Dorian is hesitant to fall for the barista who catches his eye and captures his attention as she serves his coffee each morning. As with any relationship, trust has to be earned, and Francesca, aka Ches, has a very difficult path to follow to gain Dorian’s trust and win his heart.

The hurdles Ches throws up herself along the way really don’t help any. In the end, however, it is agreed that the only way to keep her trustworthy is as a lifelong student…with Dorian as her teacher.

I found myself experiencing very real feelings of relief, happiness, anger, anxiety, sadness and hope while reading THE CURSE SERVANT. I was angry when the servitor would not relinquish Elle…she’s just a little girl! I was sad that Dorian’s soul remained influx, but happy that he was willing to once again sacrifice his very soul to save someone else. I was anxious about Dorian’s relationship with Ches, and hoping in the end that it doesn’t turn into just exactly what is feared it might become.

As I said with his Sloan’s first book of the series, magic and its environment is not easily believable to most. Yet again, Sloan presents this story with characters, settings, and a language that makes every part you read seem as though it was really happening right in that moment in the world around you.

THE CURSE SERVANT is well-written, with a modern appeal to a much broader audience, including a crossover of die-hard fans of the sci-fi fiction and historical fiction genres. Just my second full read of the year, but I still give it 4 ½ stars out of 5.

Overall rating:

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(4 1/2  out of 5 stars)


UNHAPPENINGSUnHappenings Book Cover 1000

Author:              Edward Aubry
Publisher:          Curiosity Quills Press
 © 2015
Cover Artist:     Andy Garcia
ISBN:                  978-1-62007-718-4 (eBook)
Genre:                 Science Fiction, Science Fiction Romance

“…the past is every bit as flexible as the future.”

 

Nigel Walden’s first girlfriend comes to him with a kiss at 14 years old…and disappears without a trace the next day. There is no record of her existence…no one knows who she is and the school has no memory of her attendance there. Nigel’s classmates have no clue who Beth Richmond is—or ever was. This moment is the first time Nigel becomes consciously aware of a lifetime of UNHAPPENINGS.

A few years later, Nigel meets the first two of many people from his past, present, and future. He hopes that these two can help him understand why the past that is true today is different tomorrow. The young lady from the future is reluctant to share and what turns out to be the senior version of himself is unreliable. He continues his search for answers to these unhappenings. His search takes him 52 years into his future…then he meets Helen.

Helen is an addictive combination of brilliant, hilarious and beautiful. But Nigel holds back…his past relationships have always disappeared—quite literally. A year later, Nigel overcomes his fears, gives into his desires, and reveals his secrets…allowing Helen into his heart and his world.

The young lady from the future warns that by doing this, Nigel has set events into motion that will undoubtedly result in catastrophic consequences. While taking actions that he hopes will keep his relationship with Helen from unhappening, Nigel discovers the truth…and the role he has been playing in it all along…as Nigel of the past, present, and future. He also learns just how important of a role the young lady from the future has had all along.

An intertwining of time-travel, love, suspense, and hyperphysics, UNHAPPENINGS is a tale of balancing life’s choices in the war between good and evil, right and wrong, and the struggle to keep the worst from happening without erasing the best of which already has.

This literary work of art has me considering adding a bit more sci-fi to my bookshelf …it’s a definite must read!

Overall rating:

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(4 1/2  out of 5 stars)


MURDER ON EDISTOMurder on Edisto Book Cover

Author:              C. Hope Clark
Publisher:          Bell Bridge Books, Memphis, TN © 2014
ISBN:                  978-1-61194-541-6 (paperback)
Genre:                Mystery Fiction

 

 

Once again, C. Hope Clark has written a murder mystery masterpiece.

MURDER ON EDISTO is a must read for anyone who wants to get lost in its pages and be caught up in the suspense until the very end. This author has a writing style that is very conversational, down-to-earth, and easy to read. The characters, the plot, and the storyline are all very believable.

Using pieces of fact to unfold the pieces of this fictional story helps the reader to identify with it, from its main character in Callie Jean Cantrell to the characters described as Callie’s curious neighbors of her new home on Edisto Beach.

An ex-Boston detective finds herself right in the thick of another investigation in her new hometown, and this time she is thought to be the source of all the trouble. Mix in a seasonal visitor who just seems to have a little too much fun and money for his own good, and this becomes a book you just can’t put down until you’ve finished reading it from cover to cover.

I read this book in one day…once I started, I just had to finish! On a five-star rating scale, I would give this book, and its author, a solid five.

Overall rating:

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(5 out of 5 stars)


BOOK OF AGES: THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF JANE FRANKLINBook of Ages-Jane Franklin Book Cover

Author:             Jill Lepore
Publisher:        Alfred A. Knopf, A Division of Random House Inc. © 2013
ISBN:                978-0-307-95834-1
Genre:              Historical Fiction

 

 

In my never-ending desire to one day be known as a renowned author in the historical fiction genre, I felt the need to refresh my familiarity with the foundations writing style. Thus, the completed reading of Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. The book’s author, Jill Lepore, did an excellent job of presenting the historical facts and information and recreating details of the life of Benjamin Franklin’s sister that made it all seem very believable. Still, I was left uninspired and quite frankly…bored.

To the author’s defense, let me say I have always been bored when it comes to genealogy. When you start listing names and dates of people of whom I don’t know or never heard, it becomes merely a regurgitation of a bunch of useless information to me. In essence, it is like sharing one’s grocery shopping list from 10 years ago. For genealogists, this can be very exciting. For me, it is utterly tedious and of no real benefit.

Lepore’s book was full of names and dates as she did her very best to present who someone was as they related to the life and lineage of Jane Franklin Mecum. The book presented itself more so as a genealogical foundation for its descendants. It was admittedly difficult even by the author to follow the barrage of names throughout. She helped readers through this process through a few different means, including providing the genealogical charts in the book’s appendices. However, I found it very difficult to enjoy the author’s storytelling while also trying to keep track of to whom she was referring each time.

Interesting factoids were presented throughout. Jane was the youngest of her parents’ seven daughters; her brother Benjamin was the youngest of his parents’ ten sons. However, Jane was also the youngest of all of their parents’ 17 children. She married at 15 and went on to mother 12 children herself. There was seven years’ age difference between Jane and Benjamin, referred to affectionately as Benny and Jenny by loved ones during their lifetime.

Contrasts between “Benny and Jenny” were many, yet they were very similar siblings. Benjamin was a writer; Jane never learned how to spell. Benjamin ran away from the family home at 17; Jane never left it. He had taught Jane how to read before he left home and they exchanged many letters over their years. Back in their time, you might recall, women were not encouraged to read or write. As the book’s author points out, “Beware the bookish woman” was the adage of the age.

The book seems to spend an exorbitant amount of time expounding on Benjamin’s successes, but perhaps deservedly so. After all, Jane thought of herself as not nearly as “good” as her brother, and certainly not as capable. It was made clear throughout the reading that Jane was Benjamin’s most faithful follower, perhaps even his biggest fan, and she was his favored sibling.

After Benjamin’s death, his memories were published as he had recorded them. And curiously, Jane was not mentioned. As the author shared on page 236 of the book, “…the story of her brother’s life, written by himself…never mentioned her.” Another curiosity for me was that no one knows where she was buried—maybe in the family plot, or maybe not.

A final curiosity was the restructuring by the author of what she believed to be the personal literary contents of Jane’s Library. In Appendix F, the author shared “what she [Jane] undoubtedly read in her lifetime.” The list was compiled based upon other documentation such as the letters between Jane and Benjamin that discussed Jane’s latest readings or reference to the books gifted to her by her brother Benjamin. Lepore also noted that while Jane had hundreds of volumes of literary works contained in her library throughout her lifetime, her estate sale listed only an inventory of five when she died.

The author, Jill Lepore, has taken a timepiece of history and has tried to resurrect it within her readers’ vision and comprehension to the best of her abilities. She did well.

One final note: on page 242 the author posed an intriguing question for all of us to ponder, but especially those of us trying to enter this genre professionally: “What would it mean to write a history concerned not only with the lives of the famous but also with the lives of the obscure?”

Overall rating:

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(3 out of 5 stars)


THE CURSE MERCHANTThe Curse Merchant Book Cover

Author:           JP Sloan
Publisher:       Curiosity Quills Press © 2014
ISBN:               978-1-62007-550-0 (ebook)
Genre:              Occult & Supernatural, Paranormal, Supernatural Thrillers, Urban Fantasy

 

First, let me say that I was surprised to learn that this was novelist JP Sloan’s debut! The writing and the storyline seemed to come from a more seasoned author in my mind…it is a very well-penned book. I was further surprised for it to capture my attention so thoroughly, as the subject matter is not necessarily at the top of my list of favorites.

One more surprise: it was based in the Baltimore area…where I have recently relocated after spending the first 4 ½ decades of my life in the Midwest. Being nearby and therefore more able to picture the settings helped capture my attention as well.

A mystery novel that weaves an interplay of action and magic, once opened and in my view, kept me reading from start to finish in one day! I am now anxious for the next book in this series.

Dorian Lake is a seller of “hexes and charms for select clientele” in the Baltimore area. He tries to steer clear of the influences from dark magic, “Netherwork, as well as from providing client services in nearby DC. His attempt to stay on this formerly lucrative, well-worn, and proven path takes a down turn once he learns that the woman he once loved (and perhaps still loves) has sold her soul to his competition.

His former lover asks for Dorian’s help in getting her soul back from another local tradesman whose practice is deeply submerged in darkness. Dorian has only two weeks to help her regain possession of her soul, or it could be lost forever.

In order to bring her soul back to her, Dorian must submerge himself into a world full of deceit and evil. He must risk his own soul as well, all the while under the watchful eye of the Presidium, the policing arm of this world of magic.

Magic and its environment is not easily believable to most. Yet Sloan presents this story with characters, settings, and a language that makes every part you read seem as though it was really happening right in that moment in the world around you. Just one example of this is the use of exclusive clubs and the belief in mystical practices that are a strong part of the story—and they are a very visible part of our everyday lives.

The Curse Merchant is a well-written modern novel that will appeal to a much broader audience, including a crossover of die-hard fans of the sci-fi fiction genre and those committed to the historical novel consort. One of my favorite reads of the year, I give it 4 ½ stars out of 5.

Overall rating:

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(4 1/2  out of 5 stars)


TIDEWATER MURDERTidewater Murder Book Cover

Author:              C. Hope Clark
Publisher:          Bell Bridge Books, Memphis, TN © 2014
ISBN:                  978-1611942576 (paperback)
Genre:                 Mystery/Suspense

 

 

As a bona-fide premiere mystery author, Clark’s writing style is a straight-forward, shoot-from-the-hip read that leaves both nothing and everything to the imagination. The author clearly strikes a balance between fact and fiction, and that balance comes out in black and white on every page.

While not yet having read the first in this series of Carolina Slade mysteries, following the story from page 1 to page 278 was no trouble at all. The story’s main character, Carolina Slade, is a federal agricultural investigator. Her best friend is under investigation for embezzlement. And Carolina’s leading man fills the role of law enforcement throughout it all.

Mixed in with a co-worker’s romantic interests, a move, drugs, migrant slavery, and a little voodoo, this quickly becomes one of the best present-day mysteries out there. I read the first half of the book in one setting; I didn’t want to put it down. I must add that mysteries are not typically my first-preferred reading genre. But this is a definite must read!

Overall rating:

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(5 out of 5 stars)


QUIET DELLQUIET DELL BOOK COVER

Author: Jayne Anne Phillips
Publisher: Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. © 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4391-7253-7
Genre: Historical Fiction

 

 

This story peaks in Chicago in 1931. Asta Eicher finds herself as a widow with three children to raise alone and little money to do so. She is lonely for love and intimacy, and she feels the need for a man to be a father figure for her son and two daughters as well.

When Asta finds herself enjoying the seductiveness contained in letters she begins receiving from a seemingly elegant and charming Harry Powers, she also finds herself believing in his promises to cherish her, protect her, and provide for her and her children. She believes in these words so much that she accepts Powers’ marriage proposal. She travels off with him to see their new home, leaving the children behind to be fetched for weeks later by Powers alone because Asta is already in her grave. Soon, her three children will have joined her there.

Starting out in the countryside of Park Ridge, Illinois, this story takes its readers on a journey from Park Ridge to Clarksburg and Quiet Dell, West Virginia as well visits to Waverly, Oran, and Fairbank, Iowa before reaching destinations of Moundsville, West Virginia and back to Quiet Dell before its final wrap up back in Chicago and Park Ridge.

Journalist Emily Thornhill of the Chicago Tribune is the central fictional character that moves us through this real-life story as it unfolds. Thornhill becomes deeply attached to the Eicher family through her investigations that lead to her Chicago Tribune reportings on the case. She becomes particularly enchanted in the story of Annabel, Asta’s youngest daughter, who had a wondrous sense of magic and precociousness about her before Powers snuffed out her beautifully innocent glow.

However, Eicher and her children were not the only victims that Powers murdered and buried on the banks of the water and under the floor of his garage on his property in Quiet Dell sometimes referred to as the “Murder Farm” and located just off the Clarksburg-Buckhannon highway. Another victim was Widow Dorothy Lemke, and it was the evidence gathered from her murder that was used to try Powers for his crimes. After being tried and convicted of first-degree murder of Mrs. Dorothy Pressler Lemke, Powers was hung at the gallows of Moundsville State Prison and buried in the prison’s Potters Field.

Powers preyed on widows and lured them into his twisted world through love and romance thought to be only true by many to be only existent between Romeo and Juliet. He used many aliases with the women he lured that would eventually become his victims, but his one and only legal wife Luella referred to him as Harry Powers throughout.

Phillips points out in her author’s note that this novel is based on a true story of a crime that took place in Quiet Dell, West Virginia over 80 years ago. “The names of the characters whose lives the crime claimed or influenced are real,” Phillips added, “[but] their thoughts, perceptions, and relationships are imagined.” The author further points out that letters, trial transcripts, and newspaper articles are quoted exactly as they were in the original documents.

Only four characters in the book are completely fictional: the children’s grandmother, Lavinia Eicher; orphan Randolph Mason Phillips who becomes Thornhill’s assistant; Chicago Tribune photojournalist Eric Lindstrom; and the central fictional character, Emily Thornhill. Lavinia and Emily’s characters are in tribute to, and reminiscent of, the author’s own mother who first told the author the story of Quiet Dell.

The author, Jayne Anne Phillips, stitches the historical and the fictional pieces of this story together so well that readers can almost become a block in this story’s quilt put together back in 1931. Phillips’ passion and obsession with this otherwise true story further adds a sense of reality to the imaginary and real-life details alike. Readers become trapped in a web of murder, history, tradition, and romantic psychosis that keeps the book in their hands until the end.

Overall rating:

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(5 out of 5 stars)


GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRINGGIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING BOOK COVER

Author: Tracy Chevalier
Publisher: Plume, Penguin Putnam Inc. © 1999
ISBN: 0-613-33811-1
Genre: Fiction (Historical Fiction)

 

“My mother did not tell me they were coming.” The very first line of this book says it all. And sixteen-year-old Griet had no idea just how much weight her observance at that point would have on the rest of her life. So begins the legacy of the girl with a pearl earring as put forth by author Tracy Chevalier and her muse, Johannes Vermeer, through his painting that left the whole world to ponder just who this young lady was and why the master chose her as a subject of what came to be known as one of his most important works and one of the most recognized paintings of the art world.

Chevalier’s story is one such explanation as to who the painting’s subject really was and just how that painting came to be. The story is set in Delft, Holland, roughly from 1664 to 1676…Vermeer’s prime time. It is written in first person from the eyes and mind of the young Griet. The artist’s interpretation of Griet, his innocent yet intuitive young maid, is finally allowed to be brought to life on the canvas at the suggestion of Vermeer’s wealthy friend van Ruijven, who purchases the finished work of this maid just as he had purchased Vermeer’s painting of another young maid years ago (Tanneke) who has since become Griet’s supervisor and somewhat her mentor.

Wealthy connoisseur van Ruijven commissioned Vermeer to complete these paintings so that he could relive his erotic impulses for these young women through them. Vermeer too did not mind these commissions, as they allowed him to explore the sensual awakenings he felt through applying his otherwise artistic vision to the canvas via muses such as Griet.

Vermeer seemed to have a deeper connection to Griet, however. She became the first and only maid allowed to clean his studio. She also soon became somewhat of an apprentice to the master as well; he taught her how to grind the powders that became his color palette. He also allowed her to provide critique and offer suggested changes of his works in progress, and he made those changes.

And when he came to paint the innocently sensual portrait at the center of this book, the very painting that would come to define Vermeer’s artistry in all the history books, he betrayed his wife Catharina’s heart by having his muse, a mere house maid, don the pearl earrings he had bought for the woman to whom he had previously committed a lifetime of love.

Though a masterpiece that would bring much needed income into the home, Catharina is not even close to amused at the message from the painter and his muse appearing larger than life on the canvas…the painting that the world almost didn’t get to see. You’ll have to read the book to find out why. You’ll also have to read the book to learn how Vermeer’s underlying passion comes to haunt his most innocent muse again once more upon even after his death.

The author, Tracy Chevalier, has taken artistic license with one of the most significant piece of works to both art historians and laymen around the world. She has documented what can be interpreted as one of the best explanations behind an artist’s statement of inspiration. The story of the girl with a pearl earring that Chevalier shares with us is very well rooted, and very much believable. Chevalier has done well.

Overall rating:

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(5 out of 5 stars)


CITY OF DARK WATERSIn the City of Dark Waters Book Cover

Author: Jane Jakeman
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime © 2006
ISBN: 0425209814
Genre: Mystery Fiction

 

 

This story’s setting takes place in Venice during the first part of the twentieth century. London lawyer Revel Callender takes a respite from his law practice to spend a year in Venice, learning Italian, studying the art galleries, perhaps even trying his hand at art himself. While in Venice, Callender receives an assignment from British Consul Theseus Barton that sends him to the home of Palazzo Casimiri, part of an affluent English banking family. Callender is sent there to provide legal assistance to the family’s elderly principessa. Upon arrival at the Casimiri residence, Callender finds that his client is not only dead, but is not quite the type of person he expected. Although the principessa is deceased, the family retains Callender to get the principessa’s papers in order.

While in the home of the Casimiris, Callender discovers the swinging body of Count Casimiri hanging from a tree. There are knife wounds all over the corpse, but the police, under the advice of a powerful patrician, insist that the Count committed suicide.

An interesting part of the story line involves the characters of renowned artist Claude Monet and his wife, who arrive in Venice having fled Paris after the scandal of the homicide of Monet’s brother-in-law so that Monet might be able to capture the famous Venetian light reflect on the city’s water and marble splendor. Monet meets Callender and hires him to go to France to investigate his brother-in-law’s murder, although both Monet and Callender know Callender can do nothing but convey his findings to Monet.

In Venice, while pondering Monet’s request, ignoring the police, surviving attempts on his life, and falling in love with Clara Casimiri, Callender continues to investigate the murder he is certain occurred.

The author, Jane Jakeman, provides a revealing view of Venice circa 1908 through the eyes of an outsider to illustrate a morally corrupt society where injustice is the norm. As a perfect protagonist, Callender’s determination to discover the truth becomes an obsession. Observing Callender’s motivation to uncover the truth, Monet knows Callender is the man to send to Paris on his case.

Callender’s appreciation of Monet’s works further adds a sense of reality to the story and its readers. The use of Monet as a character adds to the overall feel that the reader is right there in Venice during it all. It is the desire of the story’s characters, all from different walks of life, wanting Callender stopped that keep the readers intrigued. The readers are trapped in a web of murder, history, tradition, and sexual deviation that keeps the book in their hands until the end.

Overall rating:

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(4 out of 5 stars)