A Wicked Giveaway

In honor of my Facebook author page reaching yet another 100-like mark, I'm hosting a giveaway of my first novel, The Wicked Heroine.

To sign up for a free signed copy, comment on this post with your email address -- you can write your e-mail like this: [awesomereader (at) gmail (dot) com] to avoid spam bots. The givaway ends December 20th, 2011, when I'll randomly select a winner and email you for your mailing address. If you're quick and in the mix, you can get your copy before Christmas! Just one more treat from Santa under your tree!


My Christmas Wish: Duotrope for Review Sites

As I was falling asleep last night (my usual good idea time), I realized what sort of service could rock the worlds of book reviewers and independent/small press authors alike: a Duotrope for review sites.

If you've ever used Duotrope, you know the awesomeness of its color-coordinated search function, the glory of its detailed information and statistics. What if such a site existed to help books get reviews? Think of the myriad ways you could streamline your search for review sites.

Let's see, I'll look for:
  • genre: romance
  • subgenre: paranormal
  • length: novel
  • theme: YA
  • price: free
  • wait time: 4 months or less
  • type: pre-publication (hoping to bump that first week of sales, right?)
  • and definitely simultaneous submission! I can't see any reviewer objecting to that, anyway.
Then I click "Search", and ideally dozens of reviewers for paranormal YA romance pop onto my screen. I begin perusing, reading the details of each reviewer's guidelines for submission, and choose which to submit to. Some request a first chapter to see whether they like my style. Others want a query first. Others don't care and will accept my entire novel file as an attachment.  Following everyone's guidelines precisely, I send off half a dozen simultaneous requests for review. Three reviewers bounce back a generic "no thank you", and three accept, putting my book into their review queue. Half an hour of work, and I've netted three reviews! I am over the moon!

Registered users would have a monthly per-book request limit to prevent spamming; abuse of the feature would get you banned. Review markets would have their responses catalogued by authors when (or if) the reviews were posted, and review times would be compared with posted wait times for authors' perusal (satisfaction with the review is so subjective that it's not necessary to record--the reviewer isn't talking to the author, anyway, but to readers). The stats lists for fastest responses, least likely to post a review, number of markets for any given genre, most likely to accept a book, etc., would be very useful, and would encourage reviewers to do their best in order to draw more traffic and better books to their sites.

 Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? If you've ever had to search, and search, and search, for active review sites, you know the pain of realizing that the one site that sounds perfectly matched to your novel's style has been inactive for three months. That's one of the reasons I chose the Duotrope model: Duotrope actively checks with its 3600+ listed markets at least once per month to make sure they are still active. They add new sites and retire old ones regularly, keeping the listing as current as possible for the thousands of people who use the resource they provide. A function like this would do the same for the always-fluctuating review-site markets as well, giving assurance to review-seekers that the listed markets will actually respond to their requests.

If you were an author, how much would this service be worth to you, saving you all that time searching? Currently, Duotrope is free, running on donations for maintaining its publishing-market listings. If they or someone else expanded into the review market, I would hope that authors would donate gratefully. I know I would.

Dear Santa, if I wish really hard and be a very good girl, can I get this for Christmas? I'll leave you all the cookies you want.


My NaNoWriMo Do's and Don'ts

DO make a Snowflake outline ahead of time.

DO stick to its scene list like it's the gospel truth so you don't wander off and write another 100k that isn't relevant...again.

DO add notes to yourself in [brackets] as you're writing so you can keep track of changes you want to make later.

DON'T worry what that will do to your word count. Your goal is a finished novel manuscript, not a mere 50k.

DO turn off the Internet. Except to post word count updates.

DO take Saturdays off, or your tendinitis will overwhelm you. Unless you didn't type much on Friday and an idea strikes you Saturday night while you're watching Doctor Who reruns.

DO use liniment during the day and wear your wrist brace at night even if it doesn't feel like it needs it. It does.

DON'T try to set a new personal record for most words written in one day. You couldn't type for 4 days after that.

DO write entire scenes at once whenever possible. Homogeneity is a good thing in scene tone.

DO eat regularly, and with relatively healthy food, so your hypoglycemia doesn't flare up mid-scene.

DO get up between scenes and stretch, exercise a bit, or do a quick chore. The house always looks cleanest during the first week of NaNo!

DO upload your word count every hour or so like the obsessive nutjob you are.

DO check your writing buddies' word counts every morning to see if anyone has passed you.

DO try to stay in the top 5 among your writing buddies' word counts.

DO boot everyone from your writing buddies list who hasn't actually written anything the first week. They're not helping your momentum.

DO remember you have a family, and spend time with them when you're not writing.

Happy National Day on Writing!

There's an animal joy that rises in my soul at the thought of creating new universes. I make new places. I make new people. I carve the mountain ranges; I arrange the women's hair. I release the people into the worlds, and I guide them on their journeys. I get to create encounters and adventures I'll never see on Earth.

At the same time, I am the filter for these places, these events. They are the distilled awesomesauce of planet Earth, through my eyes. Through my soul. My creations are the pure, unadulterated moonshine of my brain, the ambrosia that is freedom of expression...the crack cocaine that is my imagination.

Have some.



My Hero

Anger can come in more than one form. Unfocused anger is the unhealthy sort, where anyone and everyone can be a target, and usually nothing is resolved. But focused anger, the sort that has a pattern and a path and a targeted goal, can work wonders. Studies have shown that arguments given in anger (read: rants) are more coherent and organized than those assembled in a neutral state of mind before any editing is done. You know the type: you get fed up with a series of related issues, and you spell them out, one by one, with accompanying examples. Look, angernization!

My own current anger is in retaliation against my own passivity and laziness, as well as events beyond my control. I had a hard summer: I pulled a tendon in my leg, which resulted in no exercise and little movement for four weeks, followed immediately by two weeks' vacation, consisting mostly of car rides and unhealthy food. I gained weight. As a former 116-pound black belt, my pudge well and truly disgusted me. But not as much as my fatalism. Two weeks ago, I organized workout music and planned an easy exercise program that my leg, still recovering, can handle. And I ranted at myself, out loud, in wickedly organized fashion. It felt good.

I'm happy to report that my body still likes to be in shape. After two weeks, I've dropped a nice seven pounds and an inch here and there, and I feel stronger and healthier. Fitting back into clothes I had to put away is a serious joy.

My goal is to drop twenty pounds. I don't know, or care, how long it will take. I WANT this. I DEMAND this.

And this is where I whip out the "art" portion of this post, because I can't help wondering whether one of the characters in my current fantasy trilogy project is inspiring this change in me. Here's how I wrote him in book one of the Seals of the Duelists, titled Elements of Allegiance:

Bayan is a young man, just 15, when his magic powers appear. He doesn't want them; he wants to marry his girlfriend. His worst-case scenario is being sent to live on a mountain ridge nearby, causing his girlfriend to leave him, but things go from bad to worse immediately, and he learns he has to travel over a thousand miles away, leaving family, culture, language and climate behind, and go deep into the heart of the empire that has taken control of his homeland, in order to be trained by the imperial duelists to do a lifelong job he despises.

Yeah, he's pissed. He's so pissed that it affects his magic while he bides his time, looking for a way to escape and return home. At a critical point in the story, he has to deal with his anger, because in its unfocused state, its disruption of his magic could be deadly. After all, he doesn't want to die, he wants to go home. So he finds a way to focus his anger. It never goes away (spoiler?), but only one of them can be in control, and Bayan DEMANDS that it be him. Because it must be so, and so it is.

Did my character inspire me? Is he saving me? (My hero!) I've experienced a lot of anger during my life, and I thought that's where Bayan's issues came from when I created him. But maybe I've held the keys to my own freedom all along, too. It just took some fiction writing and the summer from hell to help me see it.


Tribalism in Fantasy Fiction

I woke up this morning thinking about tribalism and how it can be used to enhance fiction, and specifically fantasy. Yeah, my subconscious brain is far more cool than the one I have to use when I'm awake.

Let's start with a description of what tribalism is: for my purpose, I'm using the meaning that gives its adherents a strong sense of cultural unity. And to make this a practical version of tribalism, they'll need to have that sense while surrounded by various groups who are "other".

Keep in mind that "tribal" does by no means mean "primitive". Many modern nations on Earth still exhibit strong tribal traits. The enduring core of tribalism is an Us vs. Them mentality, and it comes in three basic forms.

Yay Us, Boo You

Your basic tribalistic sentiment is bipartisan. Two entities, whose members support their own beliefs and customs and decry those of their opponent. Examples: Americans with strong political beliefs, soccer fans on the day of a match with a bitter rival.

This form can serve in fiction when you've only got two main groups to deal with. They can be equal in power, territory and resources, or you can imbalance their relationship, giving one group most of the advantages. The relationship can range from merely unequal to true oppression, to active attempts at extermination. Examples: Israel vs. Palestine, Hutu vs. Tutsi, United States vs. Native Americans, Nazi Germany vs. ethnic Jews

Naturally, an imbalanced rivalry would create more conflict, a sense of dominance vs. the underdog, and engage the minds of your readers more directly. Example: in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, the twelve Districts must annually send their children into mortal combat as punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol.

Yay All of Us, Boo You

A more populated, multi-tribe scenario involves several groups who generally consider themselves to be equals, especially compared to one single group whom they collectively dislike, steal from, abuse, or exploit. Wars and alliances may shift local borders over time, and a certain cultural group might lose their homeland entirely, being forced to live in land controlled by other tribes, subject to their rules. Or various tribes may invade from afar, seeking to subjugate and enslave a technologically inferior race for profit. Yet the subjugated tribe would try to preserve their cultural identity, as it is all they really have left. Proud squatters or wanderers, forced to consider tasks and jobs the other tribes don't want to perform in order to survive, or forced to live in certain disadvantaged areas in order to control them. Examples: Kurds, African slaves

Alternately, the disfavored tribe could wander far from their homeland, making themselves unwanted among other tribes due to sucking up resources, clogging the streets with beggars, taking up local jobs, and/or clashing with local religious or cultural practices. Example: Gypsies, medieval Jews

Disadvantaged peoples make regular appearances in fiction. As individuals, they're often romanticized, portrayed as heroic survivors, misunderstood loners, sometimes in possession of arcane or lost knowledge. On the flip side, larger groups of these peoples can also be portrayed as deserving of their lowered status, untrustworthy, or bearing tribal shame for a historical act. Examples: Lan Mandragoran, Dai'shan of the Malkier, and the wandering Tuatha'an in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series

Yay Us, Boo All of You

The opposite form of the multi-tribe scenario involves one tribe who considers themselves better than all those around them. This could stem from a technological advantage, better resources in their land area (mining, water, precious gems, better croplands, etc.), a history of winning battles, being culturally emulated by their neighbors, possession of a world landmark, a current trend of tribal fervor due to a charismatic leader, or a religious superiority (my god is better than your god). Example: Ancient Romans, French, Chinese, Jews, Americans, British Empire, Nazi Germany, Spanish vs. Mexican and S. American tribes, Dutch vs. African tribes

This high opinion of themselves will persist for a longer period if they truly do possess some form of advantage, or if others reinforce the belief that it is true. However, the term "confirmation bias" surely applies here to some degree.

In fantasy, this multi-tribe scenario is often part of an epic Good vs. Evil plot. One tribe rises above the others and begins to oppress or slaughter them, seeking what all tribes with power want: more power. Pretty much universally, it is proven in the end by the success of the protagonist(s) that the oppressing tribe was not, in fact, superior. At least not in the way they thought they were. In current fiction, it's considered rude to attack your neighbors just because you can, and if your inter-tribal social skills are lacking, you simply can't be a superior race. Sorry. Example: Sauron and his armies of orcs and Uruk-hai in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy

Additional Concepts

In the real world, people sometimes get upset at even distant tribalism conflicts on the news, often identifying with one side or the other. Other times, they simply can't relate to what the tribes involved are fighting over, because the tribal and cultural backgrounds of the news-watcher and the fighting tribes are so different. Actions that offer insult vary widely between cultures: hitting someone with a shoe, touching their head, even accepting a gift the first time it is offered. Yet to other cultures, these things are nearly meaningless. The traits you give to your tribal culture will shape the ways in which conflict with their neighbors arises.

In order to create a believable conflict between your fictional tribes, it's essential to provide historical context. Studying current world conflicts is an excellent place to get inspiration. Was there a land grab? An oppressive ruler who belonged to a minority group? A wave of religious intolerance and slaughter? A patriarchal-society prince spurned by a matriarchal-society princess? An advance in medical care, leading to a population boom? The rise of a prophet?

Consider how long you want the tension to have existed. Ancient rivalries are far more difficult, and sometimes impossible, to truly set aside. They can become part of one's tribal identity, and even in times of peace, distrust and aggression can surface without warning.

Derogatory phrases perpetuate such negative characterizations. Consider our Earth phrase "I got gypped". This perpetuates the idea that Gypsies are untrustworthy thieves. Another is "Indian giver". Jokes at the expense of another culture also perpetuate superior feelings by giving permission to laugh at the supposed inferiority of the other tribe. If your tribes really want to teach their children hate and distrust, they'll incorporate such insulting phrases and jokes into their everyday language.

Alternately, direct insults, a.k.a. racial slurs, are a much stronger form of dislike, often used to directly insult a disliked person to their face, or to indicate dismissal and superiority through using the term to a like-minded tribesman. Consider the powerful context of the infamous N-word in American culture, or the myriad derogatory terms that the American culture has used to describe its various enemies during wartime, and which persisted for decades even after the wars were ended.

With time, some of these derogatory terms can become accepted by the tribes they're applied to, either by disinterested parties or by the insulted tribes themselves. Several Native American tribes are now known by names coined by their enemies.The term "Christian" used to be an insult a couple thousand years ago. Whether the name is forced upon its targets or whether they embrace it for their own reasons is up to you.

Whatever your tribal tale, don't forget to consider your audience, and their own tribal background. If the tribal conflict you choose to write about isn't something your readers have cultural experience with, use other ways to help them relate, through character reactions and plot consequences. When you can get your readers to relate strongly to your fictional conflict, you've captured the essence of tribalism.


Sometimes, You Really Do Need to Take a Journey to Find Yourself

August 7th, 2011 is a day that will live in my memory forever. I finally got to meet my long distance friend, Lindsay, in Boston--the woman who is so like myself that I call her "Other Me". And while that wasn't all that made the day so stunning, it was the best part.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

First, Boston served up the wrong weather, dishing out some rain the likes of which I haven't seen in years, even on the West Coast. Lindsay called the continual liquid pounding a phenomenon, and I'll take her word for it. It was torrential, and with the strong gusts of wind that howled down the streets of South Boston like a horde of avenging harpies, it was very nearly horizontal. Our departure from The Other Side Cafe to go sightseeing left us completely drenched on one side within a block. My capris went from pink on the back half to dark red on the front half right at the seams. Yeah, great, because I needed to look like a harlequin juggler today. Not.

Once inside the car, we decided to head indoors and wait for the rain to let up. Our chosen destination: the BPL, Boston Public Library. We even scored a parking space half a block away! Thrilled, we leapt over 4" deep puddles at the curbs to huddle under the library's overhang...and learn that it was closed on Sundays.



Now what? Well, luckily (okay, I confess it wasn't luck at all, but more like obsession) I had loaded a nearby geocache into my GPS unit. It was across the street at Trinity Church. So, despite the absolute downpour, we returned to the car for the GPS unit, then sloshed back across the street to the church. Seeing as we were so wet by this point anyway, we decided to just jump around in the puddles instead of clinging to the sopping shreds of our dignity. It was far more fun that way, and we both had sandals on anyway.

After wading through numerous puddles, lakes and inland seas, we finally arrived at the church's portico and wrung our clothes out. Yes, that's how wet we were; a little shampoo and I could have lathered and rinsed right there on the sidewalk. Apparently enjoying the view from directly above me, Lindsay's umbrella kept dropping huge glops of water down the front of my shirt. Not cool, little bendy umbrella. Not cool.

We found the info for the puzzle cache after exploring the sanctuary of the church for a few minutes (it was back outside on the thankfully covered portico), and located the micro container. I had to take it inside to sign the log with a pen because I'd left mine in the car and wasn't nearly about to swim after it. After replacing the container, we all decided that we might enjoy a car tour more than a walking tour, at least until the rain let up.

"Here Lies Peregrine Took"

Into the car we went; we zoomed around Beacon Hill for awhile and saw the Massachusetts State House and a bunch of multi-million dollar townhouses that you couldn't pay me to live in. We crossed the river and puttered around MIT and Harvard campuses, admiring the buildings and nice streets and large old houses.

Then I recalled a virtual geocache I wanted to take a look at, in Mt. Auburn cemetery. We drove there in yet more pouring rain, to discover that a hidden treasure awaited us.

The cemetery was split into dozens of small areas tucked within curling, looping roads. Thousands of individually identified trees lined the roads. Headstones rose above the grass in dozens of amazing forms, from Egyptian obelisks and draped urns to full body statues, vine-draped crosses and column-and-lintel shrines. Family plots were everywhere. Not to mention the wealth of unique mausoleums that dotted the rolling hills. Most of them were set back into low hillsides, where the facade was visible in front, but on top, the hill rose to obscure all but the little roof. They were like hobbit mausoleums.

But the best surprise of all lay at the top of the highest hill, where the virtual cache awaited. We finally found the road to the top, and were excited to see a stone tower rising high above the trees. Someone in our party mused about who might be buried at such a location. I said it must be Rapunzel.

When we parked and climbed the steps to its base, we realized we could actually go inside! We climbed the tower and stood on the balcony halfway up. The rain was still blowing everywhere, but by happy chance, the wind was slamming itself against the exact far side of the tower just then. On our side, we were completely free from raindrops, though the wind whirled around the tower's rounded walls and made Lindsay do the Marilyn pose in her flirty black skirt. Best picture of the day!

Turn Left, Bitch!

The top of the tower had better views, but a higher moisture content as well, so back to the car we went, and decided to tour around the cemetery some more because the stonework was so amazing. At one point, we found a roundabout with a single mausoleum in the center, and a pair of massive, ancient trees flanking it. On one side grew a huge weeping willow, and on the other, a fern-leaf beech. But due to the raindrops on the window and the distance from the second tree's label, I thought it read, "Turn Left, Bitch". Funny the first time, it turned into an inside joke when we wandered back to the same roundabout about twenty minutes later and had already turned to the right to explore, leaving the tree's directive as our only option.

No One Thinks That's Funny

Eventually the rain stopped, and we returned to Cambridge for some eats. Chipotle Mexican Grill filled our tummies--and we had to eat outside both to enjoy the warm air and sunshine and to escape the polar habitat of the air-conditioned restaurant. We'd once again managed a fabulous parking spot (read: in sight of our destination), too. We explored the Harvard campus (Yeah, I went to Harvard. Haha.) and got our pix taken with not-John Harvard and his polished statue-shoes. Lindsay drooled over the amount of grass the campus possessed, and we wondered whether the small pedestrian gates to the sides of the large wrought-iron gates on the northern side of campus were considered a walk of shame for non-honor roll students.

We returned to the main pedestrian area for some frozen heaven at Pinkberry. I had some mango yogurt with blueberries and kiwi, while my husband managed some form of chocolate combo and Lindsay put a solar sail in cookie form into her quadruple-toppinged frozen ambrosia. I totally would have had chocolate, mind you, but I was still pretty full from Chipotle; the fruit was a selection calculated to be 100% consumed, and I was indeed successful. Best frozen yogurt I've ever had!

We meandered through downtown Boston some more, then dropped Lindsay off for her evening activity, which, I imagine, included arm-wrestling the ghost of Paul Revere while having a spelling bee with all the BU undergraduates and constructing a rudimentary lathe from available materials.

Whatever else we do, nothing will compare to this day for sheer anticipation and fulfillment for a very long time. Thanks so much, Lindsay, for being yourself, and for being in Boston so I could meet you. You're the best. And so am I. :D



Some people love it, some people hate it.

I almost always love anticipation. That feeling of something coming, approaching in a way that will change your world, even if only in some small way. I've even come to appreciate, to make myself aware of, that last moment before something arrives, because not every anticipated change is a good one. I say to myself, "This is the part when I don't know who the killer is," or "This is the part when I don't know what's in the case." (Of course, I still don't know what's in the case...thanks, Ronin)

In writing, there is often a need for anticipation to build throughout a story. In my experience, audiences have different tolerances for the length of an anticipatory period. Because there is such a thing as dragging something out too long.

Romance readers, it seems, have nearly-infinite patience as they wait for a pair of lovers to finally admit their feelings and act upon them. As Shakespeare said, "'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished". The romantics in all of us have no problem with the phrase "hope springs eternal" either. As long as neither of you are dead yet (paranormal romance aside, of course), there is always another chance for love to work out.

Other story elements can't stand much anticipation before the reader gets frustrated or bored. Plot actions that we expect to move quickly shouldn't have too much lead-up before they actually do happen, no matter how long it takes in story-time for them to occur. Assassins strike quickly. No one wants to read about the two days a bit-part sniper sat shivering in the tree before taking a kill shot.

Main characters are the ones we're supposed to care about; things that affect their future, their lives, we want to anticipate (except when we enjoy sudden twists) to some degree. The smaller the character role, the less patience readers have for long, drawn-out plot results. Unless, of course, it's about love. Everyone knows characters have to fall in love by the end of the novel. And if they don't: sequel!


The Unexpected Present, Part Two

You see how he works, distracting with the simple gift (see previous post). Now witness the sneaky majesty that is my husband's brain.

Two days ago, he asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I told him, a new GPS unit. He asked, reluctantly, if there were anything else I wanted.

"Nope. Just a new GPS unit. One with a USB cable (unlike my present unit, whose cable was lost years ago, forcing me to type in every single geocache I've ever found, by hand), preferably some kind of Garmin."

He hemmed. He hawed. I knew I wasn't going to get my GPS unit for my birthday. I might not get it before our vacation back east next month either, and that would be a real pain, since we're planning to cache in thirteen different states. I told him I could use a nice sturdy nail file instead.

Yesterday evening, I caught him standing by the front door in the dark. "Whatcha doin'?" I asked.

"There's something going on outside," he replied. "I'm going to to check it out."

Envisioning a fight between my husband and the crazed level 3 sex offender who just got let loose into our community, I said,  "Don't forget your bat!" while casually strolling toward the spot where I keep my sword.

He came back in, unscathed, and asked me a couple questions about making waymarks on my old Magellan GPS unit. I showed him how (he mostly goes caching as a social event, rather than for the joy of logging finds), and then I thought nothing more of the incident until lunchtime today

He delayed coming home in order to swing by and pick up a cake, which he and the kids stuck sparkly candles into. After I blew them out and sliced cake for everyone, my husband handed me a birthday card, which read, "Forever is so limiting. Let's be in love way past that." Ha! It was awesome. And inside, instead of the usual sentiments, he'd left a clue.

A clue.

In my birthday card.

Being the geocaching puzzle fiend that I am (all my geocaching hides are either puzzles or Earthcaches), that moment suddenly got far more interesting.

It directed me to check with Mr. Flix and my Uncle George for further details. I had already spotted, in the mail he brought in, the happy red envelope of my next Netflix delivery, containing the movie I wanted to watch on my birthday: Red. But I also saw that my new driver's license had arrived, so I tore that one open first. Turns out, that was pure luck: Uncle George was a hint for Washington (State Driver's License). And inside the envelope, my husband had slipped a strip of paper containing the following clues:

The digits of your age reversed, plus one
Number of seconds you've been alive (first three digits only, round up) plus one
Second and third digits of the number of hours you've been alive

Now, I'm no Charlie Eppes, but I do enjoy math puzzles, so I whipped out the calculator and went at it. It took a few minutes, and I scribbled numbers all over the envelope that the birthday card had come in. When I had all the answers, I sat there, trying to figure out what they meant.

I'd forgotten about Mr. Flix.

I peeked inside the happy red envelope and slid out another strip of paper. This one read:

Difference in our age in years as of the coming winter solstice (I'm a science fan)
Days we've been married
Fundamental number of calculus times 111

More math on the envelope! Now, I did say I'm no Charlie Eppes, but my husband was a Math major for awhile. He has math jokes, some of which I actually get. So although I've never taken a calculus class, hanging out with him has made me learn the awesomeness that is the number four.

Once I had all six answers in front of me, I realized what they had to mean, due to the inclusion of the numbers 118 and 46.

My husband had hidden me a geocache for my birthday.

Oh, even better than what you're thinking of, trust me. He hadn't made an official geocache on geocaching.com, no. He'd hidden something special just for me to find, somewhere outside the house. (Good thing it wasn't far, with the ankle I've got) I snapped up my Magellan and began turning it on so I could enter (by hand, yes) the coordinates. My husband said, "Now, a smarter man would have known how to delete waypoints..."

Ha! The closest generic waypoint in the unit had the coordinates he'd used for the puzzle. Bonus! So off I went, hobbling around in the grass. We'll skip the part where all the satellites in the sky were conspiring against him last night. I eventually found the cache container, a UPS package, unopened.

That brought the kids over. "Mom, what's in it? Can I help you open it?" Such helpful children I have. We had a long, involved opening ceremony, including the passing around of giant bubble wrap which gave off an unsatifsying piff when popped.When we finally got that out of the way, I got my first glimpse of the actual present that my husband had gone through all this trouble to hide for me.

It was a Garmin box.

I'm now the proud owner of a nice touch-screen Garmin Dakota 10. I'm still the proud wife of the best husband in the universe. And I am never, ever throwing that envelope away.

The Unexpected Present

No, it's not what you're thinking. Unless it is, in which case...you think of the weirdest stuff.

My husband's alarm went off this morning, just like, well, you know. And, similarly, he smacked the snooze button. However, that's when everything changed for the wacky.

You see, he didn't actually hit the snooze button. He turned his alarm off. And the next time an alarm went off in the room, it was from somewhere else.

My alarm clock broke a couple of years ago. I don't really need one; I work at home and my kids make sure I never get to sleep in anyway. But my husband wanted to get me a cute little clock for my birthday, so he did, and he set the alarm on it as an avenue to presenting me with it, at 8:06 AM.

Such a cute little plan amused me, as did the cute little clock. A simple rectangle with a wraparound pink frame resembling a pinafore, there wasn't anything extraneous about the thing. The buttons were easy to use, the face was easily readable...

...and something was thudding around inside.

It took three minutes of shaking it and pestering my husband before he admitted he hadn't put the whatever-it-was inside the clock. So I decided to open it up and see what it was.

If any of you have ever bought a lightweight plastic clock before, you might already know what was banging around in there. If not, let me explain that this adventure might have started off being about the destination, but once I was there, it ended up being about the journey.

Out came the jeweler's screwdriver, for the infinitesimal screws that held on the pink aluminum plate around the clock face. I swear, the world should outlaw such tiny metal bits. Not only are they hard to hold, let alone find, but banning them would probably cut down on child labor, since tiny fingers are pretty much a requirement in handling the stupid things.

The aluminum plate slid off from around the clock with reluctance, as if it only found purpose when attached to the shiny silver clock. Well, let me tell ya, little pink metal piece, I instantly thought of a couple wicked geocache tricks I could do with you, so don't get comfortable.

Then, things got a bit hairy. We couldn't figure out how to open the two halves of the clock body! You'd think, after years of infant and toddler toys, that we'd have an eye for tiny catches and hidden screws and the like, but it took a couple minutes of prying and finger pinching to realize that a pair of recessed screws, again microscopic, were foiling us. And all the while, the clonk-clonk of the mystery item inside taunted us.

One recessed screw gave up easily and came out with its hands up. The other one burrowed in for a siege. Peering into the hole with my face in one of those odd squints we make when we have to get the angle just right, I worried that I'd either stripped the head, or that a screw with a stripped head had been inserted to begin with (after all, one of the first set of infinitesimals was missing entirely).

But, after the husband gave up and went for a shower, inspiration sneaked up behind me and thwacked me on the head. There was another size of jeweler's screwdriver in the box! It was larger, and might overcome the slippage issue I was having.

I hobbled out to the kitchen (did I mention I twisted my ankle pretty badly on Saturday? No? Well I totally did. Fetching screwdrivers from the kitchen was literally a pain) and got the larger screwdriver, and voila! It opened the clock!

The moment of truth was here! What was inside my new alarm clock? Was it a wandering battery? A container of microfilm? A mini-bomb? The key to a safety-deposit box? A couple of dimes glued together? A smuggled sapphire the size of my thumbnail?

No, no, of course not. It was a slice of an iron rod (or possibly steel--there's a way to tell the difference, but I'm fresh out of grinding stones--gotta love novel research*!), once upon a time glued into the clock case so it wouldn't feel as light as the plastic it was made from. The weight broke loose at some point and was rattling around inside.

Sure, it's just a smidge of slag metal. But boy did I have a blast finding that out! One more mystery bites the dust.

*Elements of Allegiance, First Seal in The Seals of the Duelists series, Winter 2012


Short Story Collections

I finished both the rough draft and the 2nd draft of First to Find during the month of May, so when June rolled around, I wanted a change of pace.

A big change of pace.

I went back through all the short stories I'd ever written (some published, some never submitted, some with a nice list of rejection slips), and decided to let others read them without asking the magazines for permission first. I had right around fifty stories just lying around, with no one to read them. And as one who write simply for the love of stories, that seemed wrong somehow.

So I collated the stories into eight different collections, hovering around 15k-20k words each. And I'm publishing them exclusively in ebook format, for $0.99 each. When all eight are released, I'll do a massive collection of all of them, with the eight sections intact. At least, I think they'll be intact. Some of my stories were pretty slipstream, and could have fit in two or even three different collections (which, I admit, were pretty arbitrary in designation, but the reader has to be able to find what she wants to read, right?). So I guess we'll see on the sections bit. My short stories, all taken together, contain as many words as either one of my published novels, so there's plenty of good reading to go around, no matter how it ends up being categorized.

I got three and a half of the collections published before it was time to switch projects again. "Against a Sea of Troubles" (action fantasy), "Let the World Slip" (romance, usually fantasy), and "The Whirligig of Time" (sci fi, somehow all dark stories) made it to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. "This Breathing World" (environmental fantasy/history) only managed to get posted to Smashwords before I had to stop, but it's one of my very favorites, both for cover and content, so I'm eagerly awaiting the completion of my current editing project (Elements of Allegiance) so I can pop that collection out to Amazon and B&N as well. They might get it out faster than Smashwords for once, since Smashwords is suffering a dearth of free ISBNs at the moment, and Apple, Sony and Borders won't take anything without an ISBN attached. (Edit: the ISBNs have kicked in, but Smashwords doesn't send things out to its affiliates until A: the work is approved and B: it's the day of the week for shipping out, so there's still time for me to beat, say, Sony or Apple)

What I have left is my dark and scary/horror humor collection, with the working title "The Jaws of Darkness", then two straight-up fantasy collections (I do write a lot of fantasy), and a separate collection that features children of fantasy (not children's stories, but stories about children). I might get to some of these this summer, but once we're back from the East Coast vacation we have planned in August, all bets are off, baby: it's NaNoPlaMo time!



I cracked last night, and my soul oozed forth.

A world unto myself, only the vegetation upon my crust is visible to others. And like any warm-blooded world, I have a crust. Thick in places, thin in others, ever moving and shifting and cracking and oozing.

I cracked a doozy of a fault line. And I don't know why.

Can planets get scared?

Of course they can. That's my problem, isn't it?

I'm an angry person. I freely admit it, because to deny such an obvious fact puts me in a position where I can't even begin to cope with my feelings. But why am I so angry? Why does my anger rise forth, hot and deadly and seemingly infinite, a massive swell of unending rage, pouring over the landscape of my skin for all to see like a malevolent flow of smoking magma?

Why am I my own hell?

Because beneath that magma, that defensive pyrolithic flow, the small, fragile core of me is terrified. Scared to death. I know life and love and happiness, you see, and I am frantic to avoid losing them again.

"Again". That is the key. A burned child is chary of the stove.

A horrific fear grips me daily. Because lightning does, in fact, strike twice. And what is it that I fear, what is it that drives me to rage so dramatically over seemingly insignificant things?

The dichotomy of character in a predator drives its victims to desperate anger. How can no one see what really happens? Why does no one know that, in secret, this person is actually perpetrating acts of hatred and abuse? How can such a secret even exist? Does no one care about me? Does no one really love me? Where are all the Good People? Shouldn't someone have saved me from this?

Yes. Yes, they should have. And I'm sorry.

But in some cases, as in mine, the rage does not stem from hidden secrets. In some cases, the terror happens right under everyone's nose, out in public, where others can see. This is a special torture. Everyone sees, yet no one believes. You are trapped in a glass cage, where everyone can see you bleed, but no one can see the knife. Everyone can see you're trapped, but they never notice that they constructed the cage at the direction of your torturer.

Now tell me, in such a situation, who is the crazy one?

It's not who you think. It's not me. And despite the instinct to rage against naysayers, it's not you either. It's him. It's always him.

Putting people in glass cages for the rush of it all. Watching others enlist themselves unknowingly.

When the victim is finally freed, broken, stumbling, weeping and bleeding from a hundred invisible wounds, everyone turns away. No one lends a hand. No one realizes what they've done, how they've contributed, unaware. Everyone blames the victim, because they cannot see anyone else on the suspect list. They cannot accept that said list is a mirror handed to them by the real perpetrator, so all is cast aside and the Label Box is fetched.

Bitch. Slut. Crazy. Liar. False friend. Manipulative. Arrogant. Whatever sounds worst.

All the bad things that drive friends apart, make them turn their backs on each other, these reside in the magic pouch on his belt. A bit of dark powder in the eyes, and they see what he wants them to see. What's in that powder, anyway? Words. Skillful words, honed by practice.

They get better with age, you see. Like wine or cheese, but far more foully fermented.

Sometimes, I dream I am back in that glass cage. It steals my breath with fear, and then the cage melts with the fervent heat of magma. Yet, I am no less trapped, for what does magma form when it cools?

Such rage is dangerous. It can destroy. I don't want to. I don't mean to. But the living are flawed, and this is my flaw. A diamond, I'll never be. I am hot, seething basalt, pooling, waiting, far beneath the cool, sheltering trees and the serene winding rivers. I feel helpless within my own gravity field. Because in the end, magma only destroys itself, recycling melted rock over and over again.

This is not a cry for help. I gave up on that idea last millennium, when no one heard me.

This is just a geothermal survey.

Status: active. Hopelessly, endlessly active.


Review for The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

I got this book through the reddit.com book exchange, and I was so happy to see it in the box I got!

Katniss, a teenage girl who illegally hunts outside the District 12 fence in order to barter meat for the things her family needs, is selected for the Hunger Games, where she's pitted in a battle to the death against 23 other kids on national TV as a continuing punishment for the rebellion of her district and theirs. It's reality TV meets Fahrenheit 451 in a post-apocalyptic setting.

The freakiest part was how the show people take the time to pretty up and pamper the kids for a few days, showing them off in expensive clothing and interviewing them as if they're not going to die bloodily at each other's hands over the next couple of weeks. Katniss gets a jewel-encrusted gown to wear, and is plucked and waxed to within a inch of her life, and eats as much of the gloriously fine food in the capital as she can. Then she's muddy, bleeding, sore, thirsty, and running for her life. The dichotomy is nearly too much to grasp, but apparently it's been the way of things for 74 years.

I loved the political undercurrents. Things got very dangerous at the end, and not for the reason you'd think. The only trouble I had with it was how quickly Katniss seemed to grasp the danger, as exhausted as she was, and with her background as a poacher with no political experience at all.

Katniss was a dynamo, but a human one. She kept going, kept trying, never gave up. As the games progressed, she was forced into a few decisions that might have made other kids quail. But she didn't. In fact, she often didn't even think twice. Perhaps it was her experience with the life and death of hunting outside the fence.

There was a lack of fear, a lack of rebellion, among all the players in the arena. Everyone seemed okay with their presence in the Games. I suppose that could be chalked up to the week of prep each player got, but surely there was one teenager who totally freaked out at the prospect of killing or being killed, right? Nope. No hyperventilation or denial, no fleeing and hiding in a cave hoping to simply outlast everyone else. Everyone played, and played hard. For a system based mostly on lottery, with only a handful of volunteers, that seemed unrealistic.

The characters were great in this book. Katniss, Peeta, Rue, Gale, these were the best-fleshed characters. They had secrets and gimmicks and weaknesses and strengths. Haymitch was the most confusing character for me: he was supposed to teach Peeta and Katniss strategy, but he never did, so Katniss had to step up and suddenly figure the Gamemakers' tactics out on the fly, and she did so with such cool logic that it didn't seem she was 16 anymore. Mary Sue strikes again.

There were many flashbacks in the story, where Katniss goes back and explains some detail of her life at home or out with Gale, or with Peeta. I found them smooth and non-disruptive, and they seemed like a logical following of Katniss' thoughts during down time in the arena.

The present tense of the story's POV was an interesting choice, but I think it served the story well. In a tale where every moment may be your last, you must live entirely in the present. There were a couple of places where the verbs in a flashback clashed with the verbs in the current storyline and I had to read again to make sure I knew what was happening when, but for the most part the transitions from present tense present to past tense flashback were smooth.

The novel handled the deaths of the players lightly. There was no gore, and most of the deaths happened off-screen, being discovered by the MCs only during the nightly sky broadcasts. SPOILER Peeta gets two kills, but both are off-screen and one is even unintended. Katniss gets four kills, but only two are described, and one of them is vengeance for an attack on an ally, while the other is a mercy killing. The two that were off-screen weren't meant to kill, either, but to distract so that Katniss could escape being treed. The teens who are most intent on killing everyone else--the Careers who trained for this all their lives--are portrayed as the bad guys, even though the only way out of the arena is to kill. END SPOILER In spite of this, I was brought back many times to the concept that the Capital is a horribly cruel government, making young teens with their whole lives ahead of them go in and kill each other so that the Districts never forget who's in charge.

With each death reminding me of this, and with the tension at the end, it's no surprise where the second book will be taking our young heroes, but I want to see how they handle it. I'm definitely up for reading more.

Review for Heat Wave, by Richard Castle

Richard Castle is back, with the first installment of his new Nikki Heat crime thriller series! After he killed off Derrick Storm, his audience was left confused, angry, fearful. Was Richard Castle through? Was he throwing in the pen?

No. Not by a long shot. Castle has come back with a new brand of detective: the tough, independent, yet secretly empathetic Nikki Heat. When a real estate tycoon is found dead after a long drop and a sudden stop, Heat, along with Riley and Ochoa (collectively known as Roach) and her ubiquitous story-seeking journalist companion, Jameson Rook, begin to delve into his past. The bodies pile up as the wisecracking team uncover more leads.

Jameson can't manage to follow most of the basic orders Heat gives him. Heat manipulates him into getting something through his connections that she can't get through official channels. Riley and Ochoa lay the gallows humor on thick. It's everything we want and nothing we don't. Welcome back to the bestseller list, Castle.

Haha, okay, I can't keep a straight face anymore. Enjoyable as this novel was, I couldn't suspend my meta-disbelief very well. The book is short, less than 200 pages. It comprises a series of events that could fit into one episode of the TV show. If you don't get the show, you probably won't like the book, since description is thin and action is paramount, and the thinly-disguised TV show characters are what you're meant to be picturing; you're already supposed to know who all the main protagonists are.

The book pokes fun at Castle's crush-like focus on Detective Kate Beckett. She is perfect in every way, except for not knowing how to be playful at sex, which the Jameson character helps her with. Her two assigned detectives in the show, Esposito and Ryan, are so low on his priority list that he comes up with one name for the both of them, and it's "Roach". The names for all the characters in the book are frightfully close to the names the characters on the show have. Laurie Parry even has both initials the same. Everyone is the same gender and personality.

In short, it seems that "Richard Castle" is great at writing twisty plots, but he's complete crap at writing original characters and has to rely heavily on his own "real life" acquaintances.

I highly enjoyed the meta-material in the book: the acknowledgments, the back cover, etc. The bit at the back where Castle thanks everyone had me laughing out loud. He thanks his mother and his daughter, by their TV character names, and then later he thanks the actresses themselves (by first name only), in a list of all the actors and actresses on the show. Including "Nathan"! Ha!

I could swear that when the book was on display or in Beckett's hands in the TV show, it was about 400 pages thick. No way was it the slender volume I just read. If ABC is going to charge $20 for a novelized account of every Castle episode, I think I'll just stick with the boxed DVD set instead. This is an excellent fun read for fans of the show, though, and if you're one, you should read this, even if you have to grab it from the library.

3 of 5 stars.


Review of Limitless, the film based on The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn

So, I actually got to go see a film. On a real date. With my husband and no one else. We went to see Limitless. The movie was enjoyable, and it created discussion that lasted the whole drive home, which I always enjoy.

The movie's premise is thus: Eddie Mora, a writer struggling with writer's block, is offered a new drug that is supposed to unlock his brain's full potential. It does so, and he gets a large enough supply of the drug to last long enough to completely alter his life and thrust him into a world of money, women, and highly motivated opponents, leaving him to sort his way through while trying not to die from various causes.

The first hint of danger comes right as Eddie's decided to be his ex-brother-in-law Vernon's bitch, doing whatever it takes for Eddie to keep getting the NZT drug from him. He returns from picking up lunch and the dry cleaning to find his ex-bro murdered. Stunned and afraid, Eddie dials 911. But while the cops are en route, Eddie takes a more serious look around and realizes that the killer trashed the apartment looking for something...and maybe he didn't find it, which resulted in the ex-bro's death. Well, glory be, Eddie's contribution to the ransacking is rewarded, with a fat bag of NZT (which look like hard contact lenses, btw).

Eddie goes home, pulls facts out of his arse like rainbows to impress (and lay) the landlady, then opens up a can of Fly Lady on his tiny apartment. And then he decides to sit down and pound out 90 pages of his novel for his editor.

Being a writer, I strove to calculate how much writing that would actually be, and whether he could do it before the next morning, when the following scene began. It wasn't clear whether Eddie stayed up all night or not. Ninety pages @250 words per page, in double-spaced Courier font = 22,500 words. If he was an expert typist and had zero hesitation time, he could have pounded that out in under four hours. But that assumes he had a plot laid out and scenes in mind ahead of time, and it wasn't clear whether he did or not. I got the impression he slammed out his 90 pages in just a few hours, and that's at least physically possible, if not mentally. However, he proceeded to finish the rest of his novel manuscript in the next few days, and I had to wonder where the scene was of him with ice on his wrists. Or maybe that's just me and my tendinitis.

Moving on: Eddie has big plans, though unrevealed. To finance them, he begins to dabble in the stock market. Most of the rest of the movie follows the results of this choice. He does well, he gets a loan from a Russian loan shark to get more money faster, he attracts the attention of Mr. van Loon (De Niro), he works on a merger between van Loon and another mogul named Atwood.

The NZT was having negative effects on Eddie. He got accused of a murder and had to hire a lawyer. He tried to track down what he believed were other clients of Vernon's NZT-pimping business, and found that they were dead or gravely ill. He was being followed by a hatchet-faced, silent greasy type.

It was at the end, when things were supposed to be tying together, that I noticed they weren't. The movie was focused too much on Eddie and what his new braininess was doing for him to bother looking back at plot strands.

It was never revealed who killed Vernon. There were only a couple of killer characters in the movie, and only one probably did it, and his motive was probably X, but why it got to that point, the point where murder seemed the only option, simply reveals another plot hole.

Several characters, on-screen and off, had some experience taking NZT. Yet, Eddie's the only one smart enough to figure out a way around the drug's nasty side effects? Others on the drug can't avoid letting things deteriorate to murder? Sorry, but the throw-away line "it helps if you're already smart" just can't explain that hole away for me. ALL those people were on NZT, and NONE of them realized or attempted to combat that fatal loophole? What, were the pills handed out at the midnight showing of the latest Twilight movie?

A minor but annoying plot divot kicked in with the "no service" issue on Eddie's cell phone. (That's not the divot; it could have been explained in the scene, but wasn't.) He flees into a sort of safe room...and there's a land line phone in there, but he doesn't use it! Cary Elwes and the cell phone much? Gah.

Okay, Twi-hards, I'm sorry I bashed your movie. To make it up to you, let me say that Limitless has the drinking of blood in it. There, happy? Well, I wasn't. The drinking (okay, slurping) has a specific purpose, but in order to achieve said purpose, the amount of blood that needed to be slurped should have been at least a couple of pints. But nooo, the blood pool is nearly untouched when the next bit of action takes over. Come on, people! Especially in a "geniuses everywhere" movie! Shame.

This is definitely a guys' movie. Eddie has a gorgeous girlfriend who dumps him as nicely as humanly possible at the beginning of the movie, even though he's a total unwashed loser. Then he bangs the landlady. Then he bangs a bunch of hot rich chicks at a foreign beach house. Then he gets his girlfriend back and bangs her. Then he has a massive blackout due to NZT and vaguely remembers banging a couple of girls in the same night. This covers about, oh, two weeks? And he never suffers any consequences for his playboy lifestyle. This must be the "oh, shut up, you know you'd do it too, dude" part of the movie. My husband's opinion on the proclivities of the women of New York City makes me wonder whether he's secretly been watching Sex and the City.

The cinematography in this movie was awesome. Whenever Eddie (or whoever) was "on", the light changed from a dry, dark tone to warm and comfy. A play on "suddenly the light came on", and all sorts of references to enlightenment come to mind. Visual effects were sparse, but used to great effect in representing the mental processes that Eddie was going through. I especially loved the letters raining from the ceiling as he wrote those first ninety pages of his novel (the title of which was a nod to Glynn's original).

I had an epiphany after the movie had ended. At the beginning of the film, Eddie's struggling to explain the yet-to-be-written novel's plot to a guy in a bar. He eventually says something like this: "it's masquerading as a sci-fi, but underneath it's all about how we're all struggling". Well, perhaps the movie is smart, after all, being that self-aware. :)

The ending was something I didn't see coming, actually. I was sure I knew who was going to live and who was going to die, but I was wrong. The ending was happier than I was expecting, considering the earlier tone of the movie. So much so that, contrary to my usual preference, I might actually have enjoyed a darker ending. It would probably feel more realistic.

I'd recommend seeing it as a fun strategy/action flick, but don't try to follow the logic. It's followable, of course, but I kept getting frustrated that here, and not there, was where the genius led. Just let it ride. And if someone offers you something that looks like a hard contact lens, maybe ask if they have the blue pill instead.


Flash Fiction: The Coffee Quest

She could smell it--even over the jungle’s heady bouquet of decay and life. Its rich aroma called to her olfactory sense and drew her eagerly to find it. She changed direction, stumbling over rocks hidden beneath the mass of ferns she was struggling through. Her hands sunk an inch deep into the thick soil, crushing young green fiddleheads back into the earth. Her dress, once the epitome of fashion, and now sweat-soaked and reeking, ground into the soil beneath her knees.

Gaining her feet again, she paused to look around. Walls of yellow-green vines rose up the sheer cliff nearby, its top swathed with giant, branching trees. The smell came from that way; she fervently hoped she wouldn’t need to attempt to climb the mass of vines to the top. Her blue satin Manolo pumps lost miles ago, she stepped wearily, determinedly, on aching, bleeding bare feet, toward the vines.

Reaching the cliff’s base, she struggled through thick verdant brush that reached her waist as she searched about for the spot where the smell was strongest. The foot of the cliff was not straight, though, and a faint breeze wafted the scent she sought in and out of the weaving niches in the rock.

And there, miraculously, was her salvation: behind the living green curtain of vines and their small yellow heart-shaped leaves, she found a small cave entrance. The scent was nearly overpowering.

She dropped uncaringly to her skinned and bruised knees, peering into the meter-high, irregular opening. The light-colored stone striated away into blackness, but along the left wall, several meters in, she could ever so faintly see something moving, falling, glinting in the murky dimness. And now there was the sound of it, as well--she could hardly believe her luck, after all this time! She had found it!

Crawling in, minding her head, she made her way breathlessly to her prize. The scent nearly overpowered her in these close confines. It was within reach; hardly believing it was real, she stretched out a trembling hand that clutched a cracked porcelain cup. Her hand got splashed in her excitement.

She flinched.

A scream of sheer and utter devastation rocked the jungle birds from their arboreal homes for miles around.

The Fountain of the Everlasting Quad Ristretto Split Shot Dark Chocolate Mocha Mint Light Foam Coffee was not hot--it was iced!


Amazon Has Discounted My Shanallar Series

I just noticed that Amazon has lowered the price on the print version of The Wicked Heroine, and of Oathen, by four dollars each. The books contain 250k words all told, and used to sell for the full price of $13.99 apiece. Now they're each marked down to $10.07. I have no idea why they've selected this book for such a markdown, nor how long it will last. But if you want a print copy of it, this is your opportune moment.

Reviews more than welcome.


Review for Maggody and the Moonbeams, by Joan Hess

I've read a few of Hess' Claire Malloy books, and this series appears very different, in several negative ways. Or maybe I just got the lamest book of the Maggody series.

Arly gets roped into chaperoning some horny teenagers up at a youth camp for a week, where they mess around, scream, fight, and build a few bleachers. Some cute guy wanders in now and again, and several of the locals at the nearest town and among the Moonbeams have secrets that Arly must learn. And for some reason, a handful of people back in Maggody, 75 miles away, get subplots completely unrelated to the murder. Go figure.

Book themes: everyone either is horny or believes everyone else to be horny; people who have never lived outside Maggody/Dunkicker are uneducated, inbred backwater hicks with thick accents and mental faculties that run slower than molasses in February; all religious people have something to hide/are hypocrites, and the protagonist, being an atheist, is the only sane person around.

I get that this is supposed to be a comedy, but I couldn't ever find the groove where anything that happened in the book amused me. I expect it's just a cultural gap I couldn't bridge, not being familiar with the Southern school of thought. Between hillbillies and the Bible Belt, I'd imagine that a lot of the humor in the book was self-deprecating. But it all felt foreign to me.

I couldn't find much reason to like Arly. All of the youth group kids and chaperones seemed to be little more than caricatures, reduced to a single overblown feature. I had no idea why the book followed characters who had nothing to do with the murder plot or any of its subplots. Their scenes appeared in third person, and occasionally head-hopped. It appeared to be series creep, which I've only encountered in fantasy thus far: the author doesn't know when to stop writing about minor characters' lives (see WoT, aSoIaF), making subsequent books longer and longer and straying further from the central plot.

The plot itself was generally sufficient, but between the preponderance of teenage histrionics, religious freak-outs and other minor distractions of similar caliber, it was hard to make room for the actual case. In fact, the actual guilty party and their motive made for quite an awesome plot. Unfortunately, the reveal was pretty well buried. The dramatic conclusion was related by one character through flashback dialogue.

Lowbrow comedy and murder do not mix for me. Give me Dorothy Cannell's Ellie Haskell any time, but I'm just not the target audience for Arly and her town of Maggody.

1 of 5 stars.


Review for Damsels in Distress, by Joan Hess

A Renaissance Fair is coming to town, and Claire and Caron get roped into helping by a purple-tights-clad Fool. But as they meet the local "nobility" and experience the fun and silly delights of the Fair itself, they realize there are numerous undercurrents. When someone is killed at the Fair, Claire tries her best to keep out of it for a while, but then, once again, delves into the mystery.

I had a harder time accepting Claire's brash actions in this book. She did more illegal things and seemed to care less about them, which, considering the issue her fiancé, Lieutenant Rosen, has with that, seemed especially out of character. Their wedding being only two months away and all. It felt like, to accomplish this plot, the author put Rosen out of town because he wouldn't have let Claire do what she did, and the only reason Claire had to do what she did was because the author purposely wants to portray Claire as Chaotic Neutral in this book. Mission accomplished.

The Ren Fair characters were all larger than life, as well as improbably horny. Sure, any good Ren Fair is full of suggestive jokes, but to imply that everyone involved is taking that literally, well, it felt unnecessary. SPOILER And it ended up being a red herring anyway. END SPOILER

The character set felt a little imbalanced. There were the locals, there were the Ren Fair folks, and there were the victims/murderer, who crossed lines left and right, but those who were involved in the crimes felt unnaturally close-knit and isolated. It felt like a letdown to have them feature so largely in the final details. SPOILER And unlike Sue Henry, Joan Hess does not seem capable of writing a sociopath. END SPOILER

Having attended the Renaissance Faire at Black Rock religiously during my college years, I was excited to get into this book. Probably too excited. The Fair portrayed in the book played a very small role, and most of the characters from it spent their pages in other locations. The plot focuses on their interpersonal relationships quite heavily, which made for a whole new set of mysteries, but I was sad not to spend more time goggling at the awesomeness of the Fair.

The writing was smooth, with only a sprinkling of errors, but, yes, I noticed them, as always. It baffles me that people paid to make sure books are flawless do a worse job of it than I do as a casual reader.

3 of 5 stars.

Review for Beneath the Ashes, by Sue Henry

Ooh, Sue Henry knows how to write a sociopath. Sadly, once I'd had that realization after a couple of the character's scenes, it sort of gave a lot of things away. Even the "twist".

I was surprised that Alex Jensen was out of the picture, not having read the last book. I did read book 4, and his name was plastered on the cover. It surprised me that the series continued without him or his name.

I loved Jessie in this book. Her and her dogs. I know next to nothing about mushing, so it was a real treat to read the easy descriptions and information about it. The regular characters were a little harder to keep separate in my head.

The new characters, they stood out vividly. The husband, the wife, the arson investigator, and his replacement all jumped to the fore.

The plot felt very tight and interwoven. "Beneath the ashes" ended up applying to more things than I usually see tied into a title. Some involved real fire, and others were emotional or psychological. It was a real treat to see all the ways Henry worked that theme into the story.

The writing nearly killed me. A glorious cornucopia of typos, punctuation errors and homonym abuse (my pleasure at seeing "illusive" quickly faded when I realized they meant "elusive") filled this book. I didn't think it was possible for anyone to confuse "retched" with "wretched", though, since they're not even homonyms. But the editors of this book have managed to surprise me with their interesting skill set. It's almost turned into a game, reading this series and looking for which wacky mistakes will crop up next. But the stories are entertaining, so I'll keep reading.

4 of 5 stars.

Review for Death Takes Passage, by Sue Henry

Alex and Jessie take passage on a small cruise ship that’s re-enacting the voyage of the SS Portland, whose arrival in Seattle WA with two tons of Yukon gold sparked the Klondike gold rush. Alex’s role is purely ceremonial, until crimes begin to occur, leading him to step back into his job and take on thieves and murderers alike.

I’ve been to Alaska only once, but I loved it. I picked this book up because I wanted to experience its vistas once more, and the premise of the novel—a cruise through the Inside Passage—seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. I was not disappointed. The scenery description was awesome; I felt like I was there.

I was interested to read in the massive acknowledgments section at the back of the book that this voyage was actually scheduled to happen. The author got wind of it a couple of years before it was to occur and was inspired to write a fictional account of the re-enactment. That sounds both awesome and loyal to Alaska, and for that I applaud her. But I’m not sure the book was the better for her trying to serve two masters. She included several real-life individuals, and the cruise ship itself, getting permission for each, and having to adapt her plot to individual/company wishes. Between that and the information dumps (see below), the book came across as part-future-fictional-documentary. If that long acknowledgments section had been at the front, it would have helped me understand why the story sometimes took tortured side trips.

Alex and Jessie were really good characters. They were comfortable with each other and their own roles as well. Well, Alex was; there were no dogs for Jessie to mush here, so she just got to play sleuth/babysitter.

The other characters ranged from really quite awesome to “why is this person even in this book?” Some of the red herrings the book presented in the form of suspicious characters were never even explained, leaving me dissatisfied.

Young Lou, apathetic teenager extraordinaire, was apparently so adorable that Jessie wanted to adopt her on sight. Crotchety old Dallas, while eventually growing on me, struck Jessie as a muse of wisdom and affection immediately. The insertion of these characters into Jessie’s and Alex’s lives so that they could later help out with the action was so clumsy that it dragged me out of the story with a mocking snort. In both cases, Jessie states “I like you, a lot,” practically upon being introduced. The book also had a habit of taking a jaunt into the future for a couple of paragraphs and explaining how things went afterward, for sometimes weeks in the future, before jerking me back into the present time. Just because I know that, in the future, Jessie and Lou really get to like each other and hang out, does not mean that I’ll sit back and accept that as a reason for them to bond immediately. Jessie is awesome, but she is not psychic.

In fact, I got to the point of frowning every time “a lot” came up, because of Jessie’s immediate adoration for these two characters. It showed up…a lot.

The character Judy Raymond just seemed to wander through the plot, serving no purpose. Another downside of having this book contain real people is that I find myself questioning all the book’s flaws and wondering whether they’re present because of the two-masters thing again. Sigh. Judy shows up at the beginning and pops in now and again during the whole book, never seeming to have a goal of her own, never seeming to find a resolution. I’m not sure she deserved the end she got, but at least something was finally certain about her.

The bad guys had their own scenes in this novel. I didn’t mind it for most of the book, until the last scene they had all to themselves. In that scene, they blatantly give away the plan they’ve been carefully keeping from us all throughout the book. The next scene they’re in is when they’re beginning to execute that plan. Why couldn’t we just keep that mystery (or at least the illusion of it—it wasn’t that difficult to ascertain) going just a little further? Honestly! If you’re going to keep it a secret for so long, do so all the way to the action-packed reveal. On the other hand, the bad guys didn’t do much more than give us the opportunity to see their bumbling, argumentative selves and some more nice scenery. The book could have done without their scenes entirely.

I loved this plot. The captive audience is one of my favorite types of mystery. The scenery and building suspense were highly enjoyable. The bad guys had a good plan. The good guys had a better one. And there was much sneaking about and kicking ass. It was great. Most enjoyably, the ending resulted in actual arrests. Be still my heart.

There was one plot hole that bothered me, especially when it ended up being critical to the final action. One of the mysterious characters Alex and Jessie had already met had a friend she hung out with. The heroes wondered if he was up to anything. But they never so much as spoke to him, even after voicing an intent to do so. Eventually, Alex requests a background check on the guy while Alex is off the ship in Ketchikan, despite the man’s continued presence aboard ship and lack of attempting to hide in any way. But before it comes in, the bad guys start to do their thing and the good guys figure everything out the hard way. SPOILER I wasn’t even sure why the author kept it a secret, since it was all a red herring anyway. END SPOILER

I was inordinately pleased to find that the book wasn’t written in first person. I got to follow Alex around most of the time, but sometimes I also got to follow Jessie. They both made for equally entertaining main characters.

In most cases, the novel flowed effortlessly, especially in the scenery description. I could feel a deep love of the land and the sea in those words. But every now and again, the book would pause, and an info dump would back up, beeping, and bury me in facts which were described in present tense. It was as if the author copied and pasted from an encyclopedia. Most of these sections were, thankfully, given over to the cruise coordinator as she spoke over the public address section, so there was a reason for the info dump. But some of them were separate from that character. I ended up skipping most of them anyway, because they just droned on for paragraphs. I’m usually one who reads every word in a book. But these paragraphs had nothing to do with the plot, so I made an exception.

The author apparently loves italics, though not for internal dialogue, which remain unmarked in this novel. All the cruise coordinator’s info dumps were delivered in italics. All the lines in the re-enactment mystery plays were also given in italics. I couldn’t see a connection, nor really a reason, but there it was. Odd.

Still, I really enjoyed the main characters and their world. I think I might be safe with a nice toffee—er, another Sue Henry book sometime soon.

4 of 5 stars.

Review for Dead Guy's Stuff, by Sharon Fiffer

Jane Wheel gave up her day job, and now spends her time picking. When she stumbles across a basement room full of tavern paraphernalia from thirty years back, she takes it all…including a man’s finger, floating in a jar of formaldehyde. Believing somehow that the finger has a mysterious secret, Jane pushes into the past, discovering a web of secrets and lies that comes far too close to home.

I really enjoyed this book, but for the longest time I couldn’t put my finger on why. Sure, the main character spends her time engaged in activities I’ve recently come to enjoy watching on shows like American Pickers and Auction Kings. But that wasn’t it. Then, finally, it dawned on me: absolutely none of the characters in this book are typical 8-to-5 people. They’re those who serve them, or those who prey on them, or those who simply live alongside them. But none of these characters are the “average” American. There aren’t even any retired old ladies (in the sleuth department, anyway). It was such a fresh approach to the genre that it made reading all the more enjoyable.

That said, I did find Jane a little inconsistent. Sometimes, she’d figure out a clue in an snap, worthy of Adrian Monk. Other times, she’d be baffled for pages and pages on what seemed a simple deduction.

Her husband Charley and son Nick made for an interesting family dynamic, though they didn’t spend a lot of time standing out in this book. The fact that Charley and Jane start the book as separated but living in the same house was intriguing, and Charley sounded like an awesome guy. I wished there were more of him in this book.

Jane’s mother, Nellie, featured in this novel, but I found myself torn between not getting her at all and laughing at her unrealistic actions. SPOILER At one point she is kidnapped, and bustles around making breakfast for her captors, because that’s what she’s used to doing. But she slips some crushed Valium into the eggs and then duct tapes everyone up, all as if it’s no big deal. END SPOILER Hilarious! But it felt that Nellie had barged in on the plot with a short story of her own, so that what happened to her wouldn’t be “too scary”.

The plot started off slowly, with nothing but Jane’s concerns about the severed finger driving it forward. The middle section provided a good balance of entertainment and suspense, though unrelated to the finger yet. By the time the finger had been proven to be relevant, I admit the plot had leaped to a new level that I wasn’t entirely enjoying. That’s because its focus had left Kankakee, where everything else had been happening. It felt as if the author was shooing in bad guys from afar because she couldn’t find a way to make them be local. Which is neither here nor there, to have local bad guys. It was the way that they were the only bit of the plot that felt out of place, that felt off.

And once again, SPOILER the killer’s success is not punished. What is it with these books? I don’t remember this annoying trend in cozies when I started reading them a couple decades back. Little old ladies getting away with murder because “he deserved it”, over and over again! END SPOILER What. The. Heck. I didn’t know there was such a large demographic of retired, vigilante women in this country.

I enjoyed all aspects of the fund raiser house. To have it tie into the plot as well was just bonus.

The writing was enjoyable to read and flowed smoothly. There were, unfortunately, far too many errors for my enjoyment, however, and of a disturbing variety. If I were proofing a book that would represent the publishing company I worked for, and it had a single error, I’d be absolutely mortified. Come on, people. This is your job, and you're making the author look bad.

Lastly, I was puzzled by the choice to write in a fully omniscient POV. The scenes wandered from one character’s view and thoughts to another’s with the flick of a paragraph. Some included three different people, one after the other and back again. Others just led from character A to character B. I had no trouble following, but I did have trouble settling down and identifying with any of the characters because the interruptions of each other’s thoughts postponed a true feeling of knowing any one of them on their own separate terms. It was a little like reading about three amoebae rather than eight separate characters. It was a minor annoyance, but one that never went away.

4 of 5 stars.

Review for The Goodbye Body, by Joan Hess

Claire Malloy, bookstore owner, smells a rat. And sees it too, sneaking about in her own house. After throwing the book at her landlord, who grudgingly agrees to make extensive cleanup and repairs to her duplex, Claire and her daughter find themselves out of a home for two weeks. In steps Dolly, loyal customer, to offer her place to them as she jaunts off to visit her sister in Austin. And that's when the bodies start showing up--with most of them being the same body.

Not being a fan of mobster, well, anything, this book didn't excite me as much as the previous Claire book. The mob characters all began to blend together, since I don't possess the experience with such characters to detect minor differences in their makeup. Everyone came across as overly inquisitive, to hide the characters who were trying to pump Claire or one of the girls for information. I could see one random stranger asking curious questions, but four? Thankfully, most everyone had perfectly good explanations eventually.

Dolly was the linchpin character to this whole story, but she was painfully boring when in a scene. Sure, she was supposed to be secretive in order to draw out the plot. But every time it was "fake laugh, lame excuse, admit a lie, leave abruptly". On top of that, this plot ended with a double reveal after the climactic action ended: one for most of the suspect characters, and one after that for Dolly. It just felt like she never fit well with her own story.

I really enjoyed Cal, Caron and Inez in this book. The girls were amusing, believable, and entertaining with their chosen hobby. The rich girls who entered the story at the beginning seemed to be treating the plot as a strip mall, and only showed up in it reluctantly, afraid to really interact with anything they saw.

The plot seemed unnecessarily complicated for a mystery novel of this caliber. Perhaps that's due to my lack of Soprano-esque experience, though. It continued to feel like a stretch to involve distant doings in Farberville; nothing felt exceptionally immediate or clear much of the time.

The writing left me wanting, honestly. There was, unfortunately, a nice crop of typos. Baffling. I also noticed a tendency to flip-flop on Claire's level of intelligence between scenes.

3 of 5 stars.

Review for A Conventional Corpse, by Joan Hess

Claire Malloy, owner of the Book Depot bookstore, finds herself suddenly in charge of a weekend murder mystery convention when the organizer is hospitalized. Five mystery authors, strong personalities intact, swoop into town, clashing with each other, their B&B owner, and a surprise guest who crashes the convention: their agent. A local girl crashes her car on the way home from the first night of the convention, but it's more than just a simple accident. And then the theories get really creepy, as the authors begin to speculate on death and murder as only they can.

While I generally enjoyed this book for the mystery convention concept, I wonder whether Ms. Hess wrote it on a dare, or possibly as a cry for help, or even as a satire on the ins and outs of her own genre. I'm probably kidding about the cry for help, but this one line from page 227 makes me wonder: "Authors are powerless in the overall scheme of the publishing industry." She's right, you know. It's one of the reasons successfully published authors are going indie in this new era.

The characters in this book were well done: the authors, naturally, overpowered everyone else except Claire, who, while she confessed to feeling lost and/or ignorant occasionally, held her own in the "sit down and STFU" line delivery category. The insulting in this book was delicious. And I enjoyed the little inside issues the authors had to deal with, such as being ignored by their editor, or having books trapped in a backlist, inaccessible to readers. Motives for murder abounded.

The only character who felt flat was Peter Rosen. There tried to be a whole subplot between him and Claire, but with the vivid author characters dominating the book, it came across as reduced to a series of similar "I'm not talking to you" conversations and forced insertions of baby/babymaking references.

The plot itself, as I said, was fun. But it felt pretty unrealistic, even more than the usual serial cozy plot. A handful of bestselling mystery authors popping into a tiny town? Hmm. The subplot with Peter wasn't terribly gripping, but the one involving Arnie was surprisingly endearing, and had a tie-in with the Peter-Claire subplot.

The end was disappointing, however, and in a way I've found disturbingly often in the cozies I've been reading recently. SPOILER The killer is urbane, collected, makes no attempt to flee or fight, is in fact an adorable old woman. In addition, other characters come up and thank her for this or that, or try to persuade her not to confess, while she's actively confessing. She seemed to indicate she'd lie about what happened, and she may or may not have been poisoning herself with the tea she was drinking the whole time. END SPOILER And that's where they left it. That's too cozy for me, really. Consequences, people!

One thing that came across as a little jarring was the tendency for the authors' thought processes to leave so much assumed between the lines, in contrast to the rest of the plot. Whenever they'd talk amongst themselves, you'd have to fill in a few blanks around their dialogue in order to keep up. Which was cool and made sense; their job is to think on that level. But the rest of the book was more simply written, and as a result, the "regular" characters seemed a bit slow.

And do not let me forget to mention the gaping plot hole that pretty much destroyed the credibility of the first killer's motive! SPOILER In sum, the first killer taught the first victim in college years ago, and apparently saw one short story of hers in particular. Fast forward several years, to where the first killer, now an editor, has apparently used some details gleaned from that short story to pump up a new mystery author's debut novel. When she meets up with her old student unexpectedly, she realizes she needs to kill her before she gets her hands on that debut novel, on sale the next day, because it'll somehow expose the killer/editor as an idea thief. I'm sorry, but that's just nonsense. The novel clearly stated that the first victim learned all sorts of interesting stuff like forensics and police procedures AFTER the killer had moved away from town. Also, she's had ten years to work on that short story and expand it to a novel. Surely the mystery genre suffers from the occasional trope just like every other genre. I completely fail to see what fully formed plot idea could have been stolen from a short story ten years previously, and which would still be immediately recognizable to the original writer and drive her to sue, let alone win. END SPOILER I actually re-read parts of the book, trying to figure out if I'd missed something, or if I'd misunderstood the motive/timeline. Nope.

The writing was so tight that it seemed to tear in a few places, leaving a gap just a bit wider than I enjoy crossing to continue the story. I also counted several typos of the sort that are also words (a for at, Rose for Rosen, etc), and a couple of completely omitted words, which for me really detract from the enjoyment of a book.

Overall, a fun read with the mystery convention in town, but the authors' vivid and weighty presence seemed to unbalance the plot and the writing both.

3 of 5 stars.

Review for Dead Man's Bones, by Susan Wittig Albert

China Bayles is at home in Pecan Springs, working with Ruby in their herbal shops. A new playhouse has been erected, and is putting on its first performance, starring Ruby in a play written by the rich donor of the playhouse itself. Meanwhile, China's stepson, Brian, discovers a set of bones in a remote cave near town.

Alas, while the premise of the plot promised awesomeness, the delivery fell flat. Much of the story was given over to daily life details, such as Ruby's mysterious new boyfriend, who seems to have some sort of history with both the police chief and with China's husband McQuaid, but naturally one won't say and the other can't remember. There's also the introduction of Cass as a potential replacement for Janet, the aging help in the shops. A lot of business talk goes on: China and Ruby are expanding their horizons, offering catering now, to make up for slow business in the shops. Cass steps up and says she'd like to work with them. They talk about it. They think about it. They talk some more. Sure, it's somewhat relevant to the protagonist's life, but in that much detail? It just watered down the mystery.

As far as that mystery went, what I saw seemed too transparent to be the actual truth, so I kept looking for other explanations. Alas, there were none: the killer was who I thought, and the bones belonged to who I thought. It seems, from reading just two of Ms. Albert's books, that the villains don't come anywhere near the level of complexity as the protagonist, making the books less interesting to read and the resolution almost boring. Ruby's new lover's past was never explained, so it feels he's a setup for the next book, yet he appeared in this book throughout, diluting this case as well.

2 of 5 stars.

Review for Bloodroot, by Susan Wittig Albert

China Bayles goes home, to her ancestral manor house in the swamps of the South, looking for answers to the mysteries of her own family tree.

This was my first China Bayles mystery, and I enjoyed it. The herbalism, the pervasive, odorous mugginess of the swamps, the heavy feel of generations of conflict and mystery--it was all good, baby.

The plot, a straightforward investigation into whether a newly-missing man possessed a claim to the land under China's ancestral home, quickly spun off into curling detours and tangents that delved into previous generations and their secrets, as well as hereditary illnesses they may have passed on to the current generation. There were several characters who had vested interests in various outcomes. The only real letdown was the killer.

For the most part, the characters were awesome in this book, both the living and the ancestors. From Aunt Tullie, with her Huntington's chorea, to the mysterious Marie Louise, to the Chocktaw gardener, Judith. Other characters were flat or forgettable, never really connecting with me throughout the book. The killer never really felt fully fleshed out, as if the point of the book wasn't who killed the victim, but China's history, and the killer was just an excuse to bring that into the light. A pair of sisters, Dawn and Alice Ann, had the same effect on me; they seemed to float through the book without ever really seeming real.

There were several smaller themes throughout the book, which tied in nicely with herbal notations at the start of the chapters: herbal abortifacients, lily of the valley's various meanings and uses, plantation behavior on the part of the master, and of course all the implications and uses of the bloodroot plant itself. In most regards, these sort of gave away the secret, as it were. The same thing happened with the killer, whose name was given as a nickname for a certain plant, far earlier than they were listed as a suspect. As the only character with a plant name, that made them stick in my mind, and ruined the surprise; it was just a matter of figuring out why they did it.

This type of foreshadowing starts at the beginning of the book, where it's revealed who died, as well as a couple other facts, before the story technically even starts. Talk about ruining the surprise! In a mystery book, that seems like the sort of thing you specifically want to avoid doing.

4 of 5 stars.

Review for Bridesmaids Revisited, by Dorothy Cannell

Ellie Haskell receives a message from friends of her deceased grandmother, saying the ghost has something to tell her. When she does go and see them, she learns far more than she expected to about her own family's past.

I feel like I cheated, reading this book second out of all the Ellie Haskell books. I'm guessing that the early death of Ellie's mother was mentioned more than once in the previous nine books, and only now is Dorothy Haskell getting around to explaining what happened. Ten books is a long time to wait, yet I sort of jumped the line here. Still, it was a great read.

The plot drew me in right from the start. Three old women say that Ellie's grandmother has a message for her, yet she's been dead for decades. As soon as Ellie arrives at their monstrous old home, the murder and mayhem begin. It's got all the fun hallmarks of the old castle mysteries: poison, family secrets, secret passageways, yet those tropes have been rewoven into a modern tale that is entirely enjoyable to read. The only part that was a little off was the Daddy Warbucksian ending, but from what I can tell of this series, each book does its faithful part in actually changing the characters' lives.

Oh, the characters were lovely. Aside from a tendency to confuse two of the "bridesmaids", I had no trouble visualizing each character. That made it all too easy to figure out who the killer was early on, unfortunately. But in this book, that wasn't so bad, as much of the plot revolved around mysterious family history, rather than it being entirely about murder.

The writing fell neatly between heavy and light, containing moments of humor as well as serious and tense episodes. The subplot involving Mrs. Malloy was nearly entirely separate in this book, but the tie-ins were perfect and necessary, and her plot as it fit into the larger one was excellently done.

4 of 5 stars.

Review for The Spring Cleaning Murders, by Dorothy Cannell

Ellie Haskell tackles spring cleaning at Merlin's Court, her home, as well as solving the murders of several charwomen in her village.

I really enjoyed this book. The characters were vivid and entertaining, and the list of suspects was lively and full of secrets. The absence of slapstick and the nice interweaving of plotlines made for an excellent read.

The plot, at first, seemed straightforward, but there was plenty of obfuscation, and by the end, I was pleasantly confused. Mrs. Malloy's subplot was a great addition to the book.

I really enjoyed the characters. Ellie tells it like it is to the killer at the end, which struck me as something not seen often--we're somehow supposed to infer the character flaws for ourselves most of the time. However, there's something deeply and viscerally satisfying in seeing a spade called a spade.

The twins were especially darling as a counterpoint to the adult situations going on over their heads, as I have a son that age right now.

I had expected a lighter level of writing when the book claimed it was a comedy. It turned out better than I expected, and I really enjoyed the book.

5 of 5 stars!

Review for The Body on the Beach, by Simon Brett

A fun case of mixed up corpses, but I was disappointed in the "villain".

The novel starts off with the exceptionally proper Carole discovering a body washed up on the beach where she walks her dog. By the time she gets back home, washes the salt off the dog, cleans the kitchen, and reports the body, however, it's not there anymore for the police to find. And the next morning it's back...or is it?

The plot started off smashingly. Probably two different bodies, a bohemian neighbor with secrets of her own, and a lovely collection of interesting characters with their own issues and motives. Perhaps it was just that I've been into mysteries lately, but I saw through a few of the plot lines right away. I didn't see through the main one, though, and I confess that's because I was expecting something...bigger, in some way. The original motive, while prepared for well, seemed to have been executed horribly, for what struck me as a bizarre reason (does that mean I'm not killer material? I'm crushed). So many of the plot-enforced delays ended up being entirely avoidable that it seemed a wonder the bad guy even got started.

The subplot involving the teenagers really seemed like it was just there to toss so many red herrings across my path. It worked, but when all was said and done, I didn't really have a feeling of satisfaction from solving that mystery. In part, it was tragic, but in another regard, it seemed overblown.

I liked most of the characters, and those I didn't were generally fleshed out enough to make me decide not to like them on their personality, rather than because they weren't fleshed out enough. The group of teenage boys felt a bit awkward as it pertained to the rest of the characters, but I think that was the point.

Carole and Jude both have POV scenes in this book (it is written in 3rd person, thank God), and I really enjoyed how the author managed to work in Jude's investigations without giving away her secretive past very much. Jude basically operated entirely in the present moment, and thanks to her neighbor Carole's English reticence, no major questions ever got asked, and so were not answered, leaving Jude smugly ensconced in her mystery.

I think she's a former spy, myself. :P

As previously mentioned, this mystery was written in 3rd person, which I always prefer to 1st person. So many of the cozy mysteries I read are 1st person POV, and while that usually works for the genre, it gets on my nerves. I really enjoyed this break, with its two disparate protagonists.

3 of 5 stars.