Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A. Keith Carreiro - The Penitent - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

A baby is born and placed in his dead mother's arms. When the funeral shroud is cast over her, his father decides to name his son Pall. It will soon become a name that strikes a shiver into the hearts of those who hear it in combat. A lone survivor on a battlefield many years later, Pall dazedly recovers from the wounds of war. Despite the dead cast about him, everything he looks upon is unfamiliar to him. Wandering away from this scene of carnage, he encounters John Savage, a giant of a man who puts Pall within the sight of Savage's seven–foot, nocked longbow. What ensues from this deadly encounter is an elusive journey for truth. Yet, it is haunted not just by a ravening demon that is out to destroy Pall and John, but by the vision of a startling beautiful young woman protecting Pall from afar.




My Review

The year 2156 is a frightening place. Probably because it looks more like a scene out of earth's feudal past than a promising glimpse into the future. In fact, it reminded me of something you might see in a "Walking Dead" episode, where the strongest humans enjoy picking off the weakest one by one, while making them suffer. Existence in this land is a day-to-day, minute-by-minute game of survival.

But evil doesn't just lurk in the hearts of men. Oh no, it takes a definite physical presence in the form of the supernatural creature called Unger, a black serpent that can break off into multiple animal shapes to devour human life in "a high mass of death." This demon-like entity is as unforgiving as it is scary. Once it has a human in its sights, watch out because there's no getting away from it.

Yet there exists a ray of hope in all this gloom in a boy named Pall. He seems to have the power of heaven on his side when an angel appears to him, rescuing him from danger with its song. Not to mention how he's guarded by a forest full of illuminated trees, shielding him against the encroaching terrors of darkness.

The power of unspoiled nature, itself, delivers him from his enemies, granting him mercy from the sort "who take grim satisfaction at the fear they put in men's eyes."

So when Pall utters an ancient plea for help, his prayer is heard and answered from above. And what a comforting thought, that is. He's not alone, and therefore, neither are we, as we travel with him on this perilous journey.

There's a higher power watching over the good people who are left in Pall's world (and hopefully in ours, too).

***

The Penitent can be purchased at:
Amazon
Lulu

Prices/Formats: $3.99 ebook, $13.99 paperback
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 254
Release: November 1, 2016
Publisher: self-published
ISBN: 9781365287077
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

A. Keith Carreiro earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard Graduate School of Education, with the sequential help and guidance of three advisors, Dr. Vernon A. Howard, Dr. Donald Oliver and Professor Emeritus, Dr. Israel Scheffler. Keith’s academic focus, including his ongoing research agenda, centers upon philosophically examining how creativity and critical thinking are acquired, learned, utilized and practiced in the performing arts. He has taken his findings and applied them to the professional development of educational practitioners.

Earlier in his teaching career he was a professor of educational foundations, teaching graduate students of education at universities in Vermont, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. He currently teaches as an adjunct professor of English at Bridgewater State University, as well as teaching English, philosophy, humanities and public speaking courses at Bristol Community College.

He lives in Swansea, Massachusetts with his wife Carolyn. They have six children and 13 grandchildren. They belong to an eighty–five–pound golden retriever, an eight–pound Maltese, and an impish Calico cat.

Due to his love of family, he has seen his fervor for history, as well as his passion for wondering about the future, deepen dramatically.

Starting on May 23rd until October 9th of 2014, he sat down at his computer on a daily basis and began writing the first book of a science fiction/fantasy thriller in a beginning series about the quest for human immortality.

Links to connect with A. Ketih:
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Blog


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Friday, February 3, 2017

Bonnie M. Hennessy - Twisted - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

An old tale tells the story of how a little man named Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold and tricked a desperate girl into trading away her baby. But that’s not exactly how it happened. The real story began with a drunken father who kept throwing money away on alcohol and women, while his daughter, Aoife, ran the family farm on her own. When he gambled away everything they owned to the Duke, it was up to her to spin straw into gold to win it all back. With her wits and the help of a magical guardian, she outsmarted the Duke and saved the day. Well almost… Her guardian suddenly turned on Aoife and sent her on a quest to find his name, the clues to which were hidden deep in the woods, a moldy dungeon, and a dead woman’s chamber. This is not the tale of a damsel in distress, but a tenacious, young woman who solved a mystery so great that not even the enchanted man who spun straw into gold could figure it out. Not until Aoife came along.




My Review

In a fairy tale, the forest is usually a place to be feared. But not for Aoife. For her, it's her sanctuary—a place she goes not to become as bitter as her mother. Among the sturdy trees, she's able to find something much more dependable than her father. In her heart, she knows that nature will always be there for her.

Or at least, the infamous little man with the big name will be.

Unbeknownst to Aoife, Rumpelstiltskin has been her faithful companion during her outdoor jaunts. When she almost drowned in a pool of water, he was the one who jumped in and saved her. But he's never shown himself to her.

Until now.

All because a rival for her attention has arrived on the scene—a handsome duke who wants to marry her.

Aoife knows she going to need the little man's help, if she's to escape marrying the duke. But he's curious to see how she will react once she finally sees his face.

And unfortunately they both end up disappointed.

For a second, Aoife fights her repulsion and allows herself to imagine what it would be like to take him up on his offer and agree to live in his warm, safe, peaceful cottage in the woods. She's never known what it's like to be cared for and appreciated, and she's quick to dismiss the notion. Suspicious of his motives, it's hard for her to believe that all he wants from her is her company.

During the stolen moments he's had with her in the woods, she knows he's seen all of her—the good and the bad. And she can't believe, that now that he's aware of every single one of her flaws, he'd really give so much and ask for so little in return.

And sadly, her lack of faith in him causes everything to unravel, setting into motion a chain of events that will tragically end with the death of one of them.

TWISTED is a fresh, gripping take on a classic childhood tale—similar to "Beauty and the Beast" but with a much more poignant ending, one that will make you stop and think: what is love?


***

Twisted can be purchased at:
Amazon

Prices/Formats: $2.99 ebook, $12.99 paperback
Genre: Fantasy, Mythological, Fairy Tale
Pages: 306
Release: November 11, 2016
Publisher: self-published
ISBN: 9781539753421
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

Bonnie grew up a shy, quiet girl who the teachers always seated next to the noisy boys because they knew she was too afraid to talk to anyone. She always had a lot she wanted to say but was too afraid to share it for fear she might die of embarrassment if people actually noticed her. Somewhere along the line, perhaps after she surprised her eighth grade class by standing up to a teacher who was belittling a fellow student, she realized that she had a voice and she didn’t burst into flames when her classmates stared at her in surprise.

Not long after that, she began spinning tales, some of which got her into trouble with her mom. Whether persuading her father to take her to the candy store as a little girl or convincing her parents to let her move from Los Angeles to Manhattan to pursue a career at eighteen as a ballet dancer with only $200 in her pocket, Bonnie has proven that she knows how to tell a compelling story.

Now she spends her time reading and making up stories for her two children at night. By day she is an English teacher who never puts the quiet girls next to the noisy boys and works hard to persuade her students that stories, whether they are the ones she teaches in class or the ones she tells to keep them from daydreaming, are better escapes than computers, phones, and social media.

Links to connect with Bonnie:
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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Nancy McCabe - Following Disasters - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

On her twenty-first birthday, Maggie Owen receives an unusual birthday gift: a house. That same day, the house’s owner, her aunt, dies. For three years, Maggie has been fleeing her childhood demons: the deaths of her parents, estrangement from her terminally-ill aunt, and a betrayal by her best friend. But now her career on the road, following natural disasters in temporary insurance claims offices, ends abruptly as Maggie returns home to face her past. But why does the house hold a mysterious spell over her? Why does she have the persistent feeling that her aunt is haunting her? Why did her aunt lie to her about the circumstances of her parents’ deaths? Who is the ghost child that may be hanging around the house? And what’s with the guy next door who seems so hostile toward her? FOLLOWING DISASTERS is tightly woven ghost story that raises questions about legacies and their influence on our choices.




My Review

Can you take on a house's personality? That's what Maggie Owen is afraid of. Her Aunt Beth always wanted to be a mother. It was her one dream in life, until she died alone and childless. When Maggie inherits her house, she doesn't know what to do with the room full of children's clothes that will never be worn.

Obsession is a strange compulsion. In a weird way, it's what kept Aunt Beth going through her lifelong battle with lupus. She knew she couldn't have children, yet she continued to fantasize about being a mother. At first, Maggie is repulsed by her aunt's eccentricity, believing it to be nothing more than her deterioration into the role of the crazy lady in the neighborhood.

But when a tornado hits town, Maggie begins to see things differently. That one night sets into motion a series of events that she never could've anticipated happening. What follows that one natural disaster seems to be a blessing from above, bestowed on her from Aunt Beth from beyond the grave.

And I loved it. What a beautiful response to quell the fears of a niece, she regarded as the daughter she never had. Ah, if only we could all have the spirits of our loved ones looking out for us like this, the world would be a far better place.

***

Following Disasters can be purchased at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

Prices/Formats: $9.99 ebook, $16.00 paperback
Genre: Gothic, Horror, Ghosts
Pages: 234
Release: October 1, 2016
Publisher: Outpost19
ISBN: 9781944853037
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

Following Disasters is Nancy McCabe's first novel. She has also published four books of creative nonfiction, including Meeting Sophie: A Memoir or Adoption; Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge: A Journey to My Daughter's Birthplace in China; and From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood. She is a regular blogger for Ploughshares and has published work in Newsweek, Writers' Digest, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, Fourth Genre, and other magazines and anthologies. Her work has received a Pushcart and six times made notable lists in Houghton Mifflin Best American anthologies.

Links to connect with Nancy:
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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tricia Dower - Stony River - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

It wasn’t all poodle skirts and rock ‘n’ roll. From its deceptively innocent beginning—two young teens exploring the riverbank and spying on “Crazy Haggerty’s” dilapidated house—through the intertwining story lines of paganism, murder and sexual violence, Stony River shows how perilous life was for some girls in the 1950s. Absent mothers, controlling fathers, biblical injunctions, teenage longing and small-town pretense abound. The threat of violence is all around: angry fathers at home, dirty boys in the neighborhood, strange men in strange cars, a dead girl and another gone missing.

The central mystery, inspired by the crimes of Robert Zarinsky as documented by Robin Gaby Fisher and Judith Lucas in Deadly Secrets (Newark Star–Ledger 2008), keeps the reader guessing until almost the very end, when the frightening truth is revealed. In this coming-of-age mystery, three girls learn who they are and what they’re capable of surviving—and forgiving.




My Review

Stony River is a great book. It drew me right in. In every small town in America there are secrets, especially in the 1950s. It made me glad that I didn't grow up back then, when women really didn't have a lot of choices.

For young girls, the emphasis is placed on acting like a lady in preparation for finding a husband. The mothers in the book aren't really good role models for their daughters. They don't stand up to the men in their lives, and when they do, it's usually in a meek and timid way, like complaining from a sickbed. That kind of behavior doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the next generation.

Which leads to the girls in the book making a lot of bad choices - confusing a father's love with continual abuse, looking for a man's help to flee a bad situation instead of trying to save themselves, having it drilled into their heads repeatedly that accepting bad behavior from a man is the norm, and should be expected. It's drilled into their heads that a woman needs to be attractive, likable and submissive. Not exactly a recipe for a girl power movement.

Yet the girls in the story surprised me. They questioned why they should just go along with it. Why should a teenage mother have to give her baby up for adoption? Why can't a girl rent a hotel room by herself without having to give a list of references? Why isn't the word of an unattractive, overweight rape victim found credible on the witness stand?

With more freedom, more education and more opportunities than their mothers had, the world begins to open up to them as they start experiencing what's out there for themselves. Sometimes their curiosity leads them to dangerous places, but they learn to think on their feet, and not just believe what the adults in their lives have told them.

And when that happens, it's a whole new world. One that's a lot bigger than Stony River.

***

Stony River can be purchased at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
iTunes

Prices/Formats: $10.99 ebook, $15.95 paperback
Genre: Crime, Historical, Coming of Age
Pages: 320
Release: October 6, 2016
Publisher: Leapfrog Press
ISBN: 9781935248866
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

Tricia Dower confesses to smoking a river punk or two in Rahway, New Jersey, where she was born and raised by perfectly fine parents who did not keep her hidden in a spooky house. A graduate of Gettysburg College and a Phi Mu, she built a career in business before reinventing herself as a writer in 2002. Her literary work has crossed borders and won awards. She expanded a story from her Shakespeare-inspired collection, Silent Girl (Inanna 2008) into Stony River, which was first published in Canada (Penguin, 2012). Her novel, Becoming Lin (Caitlin Press), was released in Canada in 2016. A dual citizen of Canada and the United States, Dower lives and writes in Brentwood Bay, BC.

Links to connect with Tricia:
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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Rich Zahradnik - A Black Sail - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

On the eve of the U.S. Bicentennial, newsman Coleridge Taylor is covering Operation Sail. New York Harbor is teeming with tall ships from all over the world. While enjoying the spectacle, Taylor is still a police reporter. He wants to cover real stories, not fluff, and gritty New York City still has plenty of those in July of 1976. One surfaces right in front of him when a housewife is fished out of the harbor wearing bricks of heroin, inferior stuff users have been rejecting for China White, peddled by the Chinatown gangs.

Convinced he’s stumbled upon a drug war between the Italian Mafia and a Chinese tong, Taylor is on fire once more. But as he blazes forward, flanked by his new girlfriend, ex-cop Samantha Callahan, his precious story grows ever more twisted and deadly. In his reckless search for the truth, he rattles New York’s major drug cartels. If he solves the mystery, he may end up like his victim—in a watery grave.




My Review

New York City is one corrupt place. Even the heroin names don't mean what they say, since the Black Sail variety isn't black at all, it's white. And that's where things get sticky. It's hot, sweat-through-your-shirt kind of hot, where on the sidewalks there's steam coming out of the grates, billowing out of the broiling subway tunnels below ground. Everyone's uncomfortable and irritated, right when the biggest party in the last 200 years is about to get underway.

Let's go back in time to 1976, the year of the country's Bicentennial. There are celebrations going on all over the country, but as everyone knows, the eyes of the world will be on New York, a city of messy contradictions. There's a nice feel for New York in this book, and how the five different boroughs are made up of varying ethnic neighborhoods. The Bronx is the Wild West. Queens is the Mets and what's left of the World's Fair. Brooklyn is making an attempt at gentrification, but not doing too well at it. And Manhattan's shoving it in everyone face that it's the best, and will always be the best (even though the view of the skyline is actually better from Brooklyn or Queens). And don't concern yourself about Staten Island. Besides the ferry, it's not even worth mentioning.

But what ties it all together is the cumulative sense of despair, hanging in the sultry air, painting a grim picture of post-Vietnam America. People aren't angry anymore. There's no point. They know the country's gone to pot, and there's nothing they, or anyone else, can do about it. There's a fatalism to the whole thing, like let's be happy for one day and pretend everything's great, before we have to wake up in the morning and realize it's not.

In the story, most New Yorkers kick off their weekend of binge drinking on a Thursday night, with the real diehards continuing well into the following Wednesday. It's surmised that they're trying to anesthetize themselves to the hopelessness of the day and age they're living in, which in turn, is heavily contributing to the drug problem infesting the city.

We tend to look back with a sentimental eye on the New York of the 1970s, but it wasn't so nice. It was a tough, gritty world that I don't think many of us would care to visit. The city had over 1,600 murders in one year. The Bronx was burning. Times Square was nothing but peep shows and porn. It's no wonder people were down about the future. I mean, what was there to feel excited about? A bunch of tall ships in the harbor? Big deal, when there are drug dealers on every corner.

This is a novel that really captures the essence of a specific time and place in American history, and does so through the lens of a crime story. In its pages, the FBI, the NYPD, the IRS, the FCC—every institution in the United States is shown to be corrupt. Everyone's on the take, out for their own self-interest. It makes you ponder the question the book ultimately raises: Can one man really make a difference… Can he now?

***

A Black Sail can be pre-ordered at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble

Prices/Formats: $4.95 ebook, $15.95 paperback
Genre: Historical, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Pages: 264
Release: October 1, 2016
Publisher: Camel Press
ISBN: 9781603812115
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

***

About the Author

Rich Zahradnik is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Coleridge Taylor Mystery series (A Black Sail, Drop Dead Punk, Last Words).



The second installment, Drop Dead Punk, won the gold medal for mystery/thriller ebook in the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs). It was also named a finalist in the mystery category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Last Words won the bronze medal for mystery/thriller ebook in the 2015 IPPYs and honorable mention for mystery in the 2015 Foreword Reviews IndieFab Book of the Year Awards.



"Taylor, who lives for the big story, makes an appealingly single-minded hero," Publishers Weekly wrote of Drop Dead Punk.



Zahradnik was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter.



In January 2012, he was one of 20 writers selected for the inaugural class of the Crime Fiction Academy, a first-of-its-kind program run by New York's Center for Fiction.



Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1960 and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where writes fiction and teaches kids how to publish newspapers.

Links to connect with Rich:
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Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
Blog


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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Michael J. Bowler - A Matter of Time - Review & Giveaway



About the Book

The world's greatest evil stalks the world's greatest ship, and the only one who can stop him hasn't been born yet. Jamie Collins is a junior at Santa Clara University in 1986. He has friends, a professor who mentors him, and a promising future as a writer. Then the dreams begin - nightmarish memories that transport him back to a time and place fifty years before he was born: Titanic's maiden voyage in 1912. When Jamie discovers a foreign cell in his blood that links him to the famous vessel, the two timelines begin to overlap and he realizes an unimaginable truth - something supernatural stalks the ill-fated ship, something that will kill him if he can't stop it first. And the only way to stop it may be to prevent Titanic from sinking. But even if he can figure out a way to do that, should he? What will be the effect on history if he succeeds? And what about the lady he wasn't supposed to fall in love with? As her destiny becomes entwined with his, Jamie discovers the value of friendship, the power of love, the impact of evil, and the vagaries of Fate.



My Review

Most of us are familiar with the story of the Titanic. We've either seen the movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, or watched the many, many documentaries available online, or even read other books about it.

So why should you pick up this one?

Because it's downright entertaining.

Bowler did his research, unearthing little known facts about an event you think you know everything about. For example, were you aware that a cursed mummy was in the ship's cargo hold when it hit the iceberg? Apparently, the sarcophagus contained the remains of a princess of the Egyptian god, Amon-Ra. Everyone associated with owning, disturbing or transporting the mummy, ended up dead. Is that why an unsinkable ship ended up at the bottom of the ocean?

Using that fascinating tidbit of information, Bowler links two VERY different settings—a college campus in California circa 1986 and the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. The Gilded Age meets the Computer Age, all thanks to Baron von Vampire. Don't worry it's not some kind of "Twilight"-inspired love story. It's more about dreams and premonitions and what happens when we don't have all the answers to what's happening around us, and probably never will.

Bowler does a great job of setting up both worlds. He starts off with the disgusting cafeteria food and dorm room hijinks of kids blasting their boomboxes to the jaunty ragtime tune the band is playing onboard one of the most luxurious vessels ever to grace the sea.

For me, the first half of the book can't compare with the second half. It's just a fuller, more enjoyable read once Jamie leaves school. First, he enters a vintage clothing store in New York City, needing to look the part when he takes his place alongside historical figures like John Jacob Astor. Then he travels to a rowdy pub in a rustic fishing village in northern Canada, adding plenty of local color as he seeks to hire a boat to take him out to the middle of the ocean to ultimately embark on a journey through time to track down a vampire he needs to kill once he's on the Titanic.

And let me tell you, you'll feel like you're on the ship when it crashes. All the little details really add to it. The twenty-eight degree water temperature. The booming crash of things falling as the ship goes vertical. The weariness of the telegraph operators as they send out the world's first SOS call. Bowler nails the accuracy of the event, making you feel like you're right there living it.

Does Jamie slay the vampire before the ship goes down? The depiction on the front cover displays their epic battle. But I'm not going to tell you. You're gonna have to read it to find out.

***

A Matter of Time can be purchased at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
iTunes

Formats/Prices: $2.99 ebook, $12.95 paperback, $14.95-$21.83 Audible
Genre: Historical Fiction, Suspense
Pages: 340
Release: March 2, 2012
Publisher: Outskirts Press
ISBN: 9781432787110
Click to add to your Goodreads list.


About the Author

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of nine novels—A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner – 2013 Wishing Shelf Book Awards; Reader Views Honorable mention; Runner-Up Rainbow Awards; Honorable Mention - Southern California Book Festival), Running Through A Dark Place (Bronze Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), There Is No Fear (Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards), And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America; Spinner (Winner Hollywood Book Festival; Honorable Mention San Francisco Book Festival; Bronze Medal from Reader’s Favorite; Literary Classics Seal of Approval; Runner-Up - Southern California Book Festival; Honorable Mention - Halloween Book Festival; Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards), and Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot (Honorable Mention in the London Book Festival and The New England Book Festival; Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards).

His horror screenplay, “Healer,” was a Semi-Finalist, and his urban fantasy script, “Like A Hero,” was a Finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival and Screenplay Competition.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II.”

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles.

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed him and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He has finished writing a novel based on his screenplay, “Like A Hero,” and another book aimed at the teen market. He hopes to find a publisher or an agent for both.

His goal as an author is for teens to experience empowerment and hope; to see themselves in his diverse characters; to read about kids who face real-life challenges; and to see how kids like them can remain decent people in an indecent world. The most prevalent theme in his writing and his work with youth is this: as both a society, and as individuals, we’re better off when we do what’s right, rather than what’s easy.

Links to connect with Michael:
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Facebook
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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Claudia Riess - Semblance of Guilt - 99¢ Ebook Sale, Review, Excerpts & Giveaway



About the Book

Ellen Davis’s husband left her for another woman. Post-divorce, she’s trying to reassert her independence and lands a job as a reporter for her local newspaper. One of her assignments is covering weekly items on the police blotter, which is how she gets to know Lieutenant Pete Sakura—a handsome, witty Japanese- American Ellen is drawn to immediately.

Another of Ellen’s assignments is interviewing for the paper’s “Around The Town” column, and in this capacity, she meets Graham and Sophia Clarke, newcomers to the community. He’s an administrator at Columbia; she’s his beautiful Greek wife. Ellen and Sophia become fast friends, so it comes as a great shock when Sophia ends up dead.

Sophia Clarke is found murdered, and to all appearances, Ellen is the last person to have seen her alive. When Ellen’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon, she’s arrested, and evidence steadily mounts against her. Ellen takes matters into her own hands as her romantic feelings for Pete intensify. Closing this case could either save Ellen or lead to her destruction.


Review

For me, the vibe of this story is best exemplified in a seedy, little rundown hotel in the West Village called the Kingsley Arms. Our heroine, Ellen Davis, is on the run. She needs somewhere to shack up for the night, and stumbles across this nook of an inn as if it appeared out the misty shadows of a Dickens novel. It's a great locale—certainly what comes to mind when one thinks of a cozy mystery.

I felt myself stepping through the door with Ellen and into the lobby littered with paperbacks that patrons left behind. The front desk clerk hands over a key, but not before urging the signing of an old-fashioned clothbound guestbook. No computers here, folks. Instead, you take a seat among the overstuffed armchairs and watch the automatic elevator go up and down. It's cool how the Kingsley Arms feels more like a location out of Sherlock Holmes's London rather than the hipster environs surrounding New York's Washington Square Park.

Which is where Ellen was before, when Pete, her boyfriend found her settling in among the park's homeless population for the night. Did I mention Pete's a cop? That's where things get sticky, but he whisks her away at once and into the confines of a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint that's bustling with young college students. You see, Ellen's on the lam. She's currently on trial for killing one woman while tonight she stands accused of severely injuring another. The kicker is that she didn't commit either of those heinous acts, yet that very night, an APB goes out on her, and until Pete tracks her down she's literally stranded high and dry with nowhere else to go.

So Pete hits up the local souvenir shop, camouflaging her appearance under a bulky NYU sweatshirt and tucking her hair under a Mets baseball cap. Ellen needs time—after she informs him that she's working a lead that may corroborate her innocence—and Pete intends to give it to her. He really wants to spend the night with her, and deep down she wants him to. Yet instead, she refuses his offer of comfort, barricading her heart in order to protect him from getting dragged down with her. After a quick romp in the sheets, Pete, feeling her emotionally withdraw from him, leaves, and Ellen, now alone in the hotel room bed, immediately regrets her decision to tough it out alone, believing she has no other choice.

For me, this a standout scene because it provides a nice slice of New York City life. I could picture the environment Ellen and Pete were in as I was reading it. It jumped right off the page and for me, that's what good writing is all about. Claudia Riess plays well to the grittiness of the crime genre while amping up the tension of how it's all going to go down. Will Ellen turn herself in or will she get caught?  Pick it up and find out!


Excerpts


After navigating past the desks, she knocked on the door of the cubicle. No response. The second, more deliberate, rap was answered with an impatient “Come!”

Ellen entered the office and was somewhat taken aback by the sight of an attractive Asian man in shirt-sleeves awkwardly poised by the side of his desk, arms out, legs spread one behind the other, the front one slightly bent, the rear rigidly locked. He looked, she thought, as if he were trying to keep his balance on a skateboard. His attention was fixed on an open book sitting at the edge of his desk. “Give me a second,” he said testily, without taking his eyes off the book and at the same time adjusting the position of his front foot to a more pigeon-toed angle.

“I won’t ask what you’re doing,” Ellen said.

“Smart.” There was a sound of raised voices coming from the outer room. “The door!”

She closed it. “However, maybe you’d like to know what I’m doing?”

He ignored her question. “Damn, I’m not getting it.” He glanced up. “Do me a favor, take a look at number fifty and tell me what the hell is wrong here.”

Ellen approached the desk and peered down at the open book. A two-page spread of photographs showed a man in what looked like an usher’s uniform demonstrating a series of exercises. “Is this tai chi?”

“This is a pain in the ass. Could you look at the picture, tell me where I’m off, please?”

“‘Fair Lady works at Shuttles,’” she read aloud. She looked up from the page at him then back down again. “I see where you are. Figure fifty-A. It says: ‘Elbow bent, your right hand comes to your center line, fingers pinched together…’” She looked up. “For starters, your fingers aren’t pinched together.”

“Just hold the book up so I can see it from a better angle, okay?”

She held the book, show-and-tell style. He went through a variety of disconnected motions, clearly becoming more frustrated. “Shit.”

Ellen had formed a perception of the Japanese male as meditative, controlled, mysterious, soft-spoken, one who quietly went about transcending the material world while politely manipulating it. She had never realized she harbored this fully defined and fallacious stereotype until that moment, as she was looking at what appeared to be its antithesis. “If your phone rings, should I answer it?”

“Forget it.” He dropped the pose, took the book from her and put it back on the desk. “I’m all out of sync.”

“Now I’ll ask. What are you doing?”

“Getting my goddamn yin and yang together. My doctor tells me I have an ulcer and prescribes pills, but I don’t like pills. I’m taking up the eastern approach.”

“But isn’t tai chi Chinese?”

“Yeah, so?”

“‘Sakura’ sounds like a Japanese name.”

“Let me ask you a question. You ever eat chow mein?”

“Well, yes.”

“I rest my case.” He waved her toward the chair on the other side of the desk and dropped down into his own. “Sit.”

She remained on her feet. “I’m Ellen Davis. I was told you had the data for the Chronicle’s ‘Blotter’ column. I’m just here to collect it.”

He threw up a hand. “What’s the point of that column? All it does is stigmatize the poor saps who appear in it. There’s no investigation of circumstances, no disclaimers stating charges could be erroneous. Just a cold-blooded list of citations.”

“It’s supposed to serve as a deterrent,” she said without conviction. “Actually, I don’t particularly like the column myself, but I don’t make up the rules. I’m sorry I messed up your exercise routine. May I have the material, please?”

She became aware of herself as an unattached, uncompromised individual as she once was at Penn. She sensed the boundaries of her being as clearly as she felt the hem of her knit dress pull tightly against her legs with each step she took. It was as if she had never been married, had instead dressed for an interview and walked straight out of west Philadelphia into Morningside Heights.

Mid-block between 109 and 108 Streets, as she was passing a shoe store and scanning the view across the way, her attention was drawn to the bright blue awning of Charlie’s Snack Bar. At that moment the door to the restaurant opened, and a tall young woman with cropped red hair and wearing a tight black turtleneck sweater, clingy black pants and black cowboy boots, stepped out into the daylight. The girl stood aside to allow the man behind her to pass, and as he emerged completely into the sunlight, Ellen recognized Graham. She was about to hail him, when he took a step toward the redhead and Ellen realized he was with her. Unable to tear her focus from the scene or insinuate herself into it, she backed up into the shadow cast by the overhanging eave of the shoe store.

While Graham snapped down and adjusted the removable sun-visors of his eyeglasses, the young woman reached into the breast pocket of his blazer, drew out a pair of sunglasses he must have been holding for her, and put them on, in the process grazing her breasts against his left elbow. The act defined them as intimate friends, yet the distance springing up between them immediately afterward seemed devised to refute it. They stood apart talking to each other, their postures stiff and formal, their not touching as conspicuous as an open embrace.

Ellen watched them as her years at Penn were sucked into a black hole, and all she could remember was her husband Kevin dropping the bomb, telling her he was leaving her. Watching Graham and the redhead across the street was like catching the discovery scene she had missed, seeing it replayed for her benefit, like a burlesque in which she was both captive audience and object of scorn.

Almost at once she felt a connection with Sophia.

Sophia pulled her hands away and struck out at Ellen in one continuous movement, throwing herself off balance and stumbling sideways. She stared in horror at the gouge one of her nails had made on Ellen’s chest, and Ellen, stunned by the violence and not yet feeling the pain, gazed in disbelief at the drop of blood tracking toward the scalloped edge of her white satin bustier.

“Go—get out of here,” Sophia rasped. “I’m afraid what I might do to you. Get out, get out.”

The blood trickled onto the rim of smooth white fabric, forming a small, irregular stain. Ellen looked up at Sophia. The woman she thought she knew had become a trapped animal, her eyes wary-wild.

A sharp pain from the nick in her chest jolted her from her numbing inertia. She moved quickly from the room, feeling the tears coming, holding them back, postponing them as she ran silently down the hall. She descended the steps with blazing deliberation, her pace quick and even, her focus on reaching the door and disappearing into the sheltering night. She could feel her eyes, static-wide in bewildered alarm, betraying her attempt to appear in total control. Still, she focused straight ahead, concentrating on her goal, hearing Anna calling her name but moving through the sound, pacing herself to simulate haste without flight as she sliced through the clear zone of the foyer and pushed open the storm door. Midway across the porch she collided with an incoming guest, all pearls and black silk, the woman’s staccatoed “Shit!” like a gunshot in an open field of combat.

Picking up speed, she hurtled down the bluestone drive, anticipating the sound of the engine starting up even before she could spot her car.

***

Tuesday, March 13. First day in court. The jury sat knit-browed and entranced, leaning forward so as not to miss a word, not yet settled in their role of deliberative body. To Ellen, they looked as if they’d been caught off guard at the supermarket, a rainbow assortment of shoppers rounded up one afternoon and transported to a box at the opera, best seats in the house.

Ellen sat in a heavy, slat-back chair drawn up close to a long oak table. She was wearing a gray suit and paisley print blouse because Rosenthal had told her to wear something conservative but not somber. The skirt buckled and slid around her waist every time she moved because in the last two months she’d lost ten pounds from under-eating and over-exercising. As she’d taken her seat in the courtroom, she’d snagged her pantyhose on a rough spot on the table leg and felt the rip crawl up her leg, making her feel exposed to the prying eyes in the room. She’d been unable to choose earrings that morning, vacillating between small and large, shiny and dull, gold and silver, fixating on this final aspect of her attire as if she could determine the decision of the jury by choosing the politically correct objects to hang on her earlobes. When Rosenthal blew his car horn in the driveway she’d grabbed for familiarity, the small gold hoops, before allowing herself to be whisked off to the mind-boggling unknown.

Sitting next to her at the oak table, “Try to relax,” Rosenthal whispered in her ear, leaning toward and away from her in one smooth, condensed motion.

Ellen sat back in the chair, her rigid spine meeting hard wood, the word “relax” banned from her body’s vocabulary. Through an impromptu technique of auto-suggestion and deep breathing, she was barely managing to bring under control the strangulating tension in her neck and the explosive blood-humming in her ears. It was not her lawyer’s fault she hadn’t been prepared for Mark Gilbert’s speech. Rosenthal had described the prosecutor’s meticulous approach, but there was no way he could have prepared her for the immediacy of the event: the way Gilbert cocked his left hip as he stood facing the jury; how his dark eyes seemed to glow from some deep passion or conviction; how he flashed her alternating looks of consternation and pity; how he stressed syllables unexpectedly, so that his words jumped against the wall of her chest—“enter the room,” “points of the scissors,” “homicidal violence”; how his brow suddenly furrowed as he reminded the jury—“You and I, we represent the People. We have been charged not to avenge a wrong, but to deliver justice.”

***

“Come up to the bedroom.”

“Yes.”

“Stay the night.”

“Yes.”

“Hurry.” She wanted to be taken on the spot, jammed against the table or pinned to the floor, but delay would set the act apart. She could foresee it, her first experience of absolute exposure—the loss of her true virginity on her sex-worn bed. The chaste and devilish nuances of amazing contradiction lifted the event to the peak of desire. He was one step behind her, holding on to her hand as they climbed the staircase. She was aware of every footfall, every breath, every sound of this outwardly conventional drama. She led him down the hall, almost turning in at the wrong doorway, almost forgetting where she slept, his presence casting an aura of unfamiliarity on the surroundings. He caught her hesitation and uttered a short, nervous laugh, sharing her bewilderment.

As they entered her bedroom, it seemed to lose all connection to her past, as if it had come into existence at that very moment just to harbor them.

In rapt silence they helped each other with the shedding of clothes, marveling at the unhurried pace of the ritual, as if their bodies had agreed to temper urgency with curiosity.

They lay on the white comforter, barely disturbing it in their intent exploration, the upheavals taking place inwardly, while over audacious globes and rises and along newly accessible furrows, their fingers, lips, tongues concentrated movement in targeted pressures, exacting exquisite modulations of sensation from each focal point.


***

Semblance of Guilt can be purchased at:
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99¢ EBOOK SALE!
runs July 1-30, 2016 

Prices/Formats: 99¢ $3.99 ebook, $21.99 paperback, $39.95 hardcover
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 328
Release: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Archway
ISBN: 9781480827851
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"A determined amateur detective who'll garner fans with her refusal to either back down or give up." -Kirkus Reviews

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About the Author

Claudia Riess, a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt Rinehart and Winston. On her first novel, Reclining Nude, Oliver Sacks, M.D. commented: “exquisite—and delicate.” Her second, art suspense Stolen Light earned: “complex and intriguing” —Kirkus Review

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