Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mobile Stories

Eveningland by Michael Knight

In this book, Michael Knight brings us a collection of short stories to give us the flavor of the people and the location of Mobile Alabama. Short summaries of the stories are as follows:

  • An elderly man tells us the story "Water and Oil," as he observes his young neighbor suffer through his first crush.
  • The story "Smash and Grab" is about a home break-in that goes terribly wrong, with a twist ending.
  • An art teacher in a strict Catholic school is at the center of "Our Lady of the Roses," where she looks at her world, and wonders how, or if, she can find relief from that which is suffocating her.
  • A 50th birthday for the member of what seems to be the perfect Mobile family is the backdrop of the story "Jubilee."
  • In the story "Grand Old Party," a man realizes his wife is having an affair, and he decides to take his shotgun and confront her at her lover's home (told in second person).
  • The still grieving and (very) wealthy widower in the story "The King of Dauphin Island" suddenly gets the idea into his head that he can buy Dauphin Island and everything there, until his daughters get wind of the project. The last line of this story connects nicely to…
  • "Landfall," which is a story (with a large number of characters) of mostly one family that delves into the events surrounding the approach of a disastrous hurricane.

One thing you might notice about these stories how Knight ends them - or doesn't, for that matter. Don't worry; there won't be any spoilers in this review. However, you should know that not all of Knight's stories include concrete conclusions. To be fair, sometimes that's a positive thing, particularly if the point of the story is to give the reader an outline of a character (or group of characters) life, rather than a conflict they need to overcome. It can give you a feeling that you're witnessing a vignette, which can be very effective. For example, in the story "Jubilee," all of the action takes place prior to the birthday party, focusing on this couple - their relationship with each other and their own places in their world. Just when we're expecting something to happen that would upset this careful balance, Knight ends the story. I found that this worked better when Knight kept his major cast to only 2-3 characters. In those stories, I was easily able to focus my imagination on how things might play out after the conclusion of the text. Knight didn't stick with this format in his story "Landfall," but I have to admit that this made me feel that the many characters twirling around one another was used to parallel the hurricane he placed at the center of the story. However, I also felt that that this left far too many loose ends, which was unnerving for me; but perhaps that was Knight's point.

Another thing that you'll find in this book is Knight's tenderly mellow style of writing that is expressive without being fancy. Knight instills into these stories the type of ambiance that makes you realize just how much he must love Mobile, and how close his personal relationship is with this city. However, it also occurred to me that Knight never allowed these beloved locations to overshadow his characters and their personalities. In fact, with few exceptions, these stories could easily have taken place in any major seaside city (with appropriate changes in specific city-related details, of course).

Of course, I may be wrong about this, since I've never visited Alabama, but I'm not convinced that the universality of these stories was always a good thing. What I mean by that is, when I read fiction I need the author to transport me to those places where I've never been. Unfortunately, Knight didn't succeed in doing that for me with some of these tales. Even so, I still appreciated how sharp of these stories were, and how Knight made his characters so appealing. I also have to say that Knight's using the second person voice in the story "Grand Old Party" was particularly impressive. This is a risky mechanic to employ, because it is so unconventional. Thankfully, Knight pulled this off with perfection, which deserves admiration. In short, although I found a few small things that didn't work for me, Knight really shows he has a mastery of this form, and I can recommend this collection with a strong four stars out of five.

"Eveningland" by Michael Knight, published by Grove Atlantic, Atlantic Monthly Press, released March 7, 2017 is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Guest Post: Carolyn Arnold - Writing Serial-Killer Fiction.
As a lover of the TV shows like "Criminal Minds," you'd think that I would be more of a crime fiction reader; but actually, I hardly ever read this genre. So when I received this offer to put up a guest post about writing serial-killer fiction by author Carolyn Arnold, I jumped at the opportunity. It certainly sounds fascinating!

Writing Serial-Killer Fiction


The world seems to be uniquely fascinated and captivated by the mystery of serial killers. What motivates them to kill, and why do they choose certain people to be their victims? As fiction writers, we need to harness that intrigue, but we also should be very careful not to allow our work and characters to become cliché. That feat is certainly a tough one—especially since most stories have already been written!—but it can be done. It’s all about making your work extraordinary by creating your own distinct slant and personalized voice. And let’s not forget that it’s up to you to make sure your storytelling is superb. 

But there’s even more to it than good writing and coming up with a unique motivation and method of operation (MO) for your serial killer. You also have to know how your investigator is going to realistically look at the case. You want to portray your main character—for example, an FBI agent—as following and working through the investigative process the way one would if he or she was living and breathing. If you don’t, you risk losing your reader, not only for that book but possibly for future ones, too.

So where do you begin when you want to write this kind of fiction? Let’s start with what constitutes a serial killer. The basic definition requires a series of three or more killings that, due to characteristics such as an MO, can be attributed to one individual.

From here, the serious authors do their due diligence to educate themselves both in the mindset of a killer and the investigator, as well as in accurate police procedure. They should search online and reach out to real-world contacts for direction and feedback. As they do this, they’ll come to see a basic formula and start to recognize common terms and phrases, such as cooling-off period, trigger, organized, disorganized, hunter, sexual sadist, and the list goes on. As they dig even deeper, they will start to understand all that is involved in building a profile, as well as how and what information the investigator needs to compile a solid lead.

While writing serial-killer fiction takes a lot of research, it is very rewarding. As an author, you provide entertainment to many readers, it’s true, but you are also shining light on a dark part of society. You are going beyond the surface of the horror and providing some clarity into these heinous crimes and the minds of those who commit them.

Remnants is available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover formats from popular retailers, including the following:

Remnants Book Overview:

All that remains are whispers of the past…

When multiple body parts are recovered from the Little Ogeechee River in Savannah, Georgia, local law enforcement calls in FBI agent and profiler Brandon Fisher and his team to investigate. But with the remains pointing to three separate victims, this isn’t proving to be an open-and-shut case.

With no quick means of identifying the victims, building a profile of this serial killer is proving more challenging than usual. How is the killer picking these victims? Why are their limbs being severed and bodies mutilated? And what is it about them that is triggering this killer to murder?

The questions compound as the body count continues to rise, and when a torso painted blue and missing its heart is found, the case takes an even darker turn. But this is only the beginning, and these new leads draw the FBI into a creepy psychological nightmare. One thing is clear, though: the killing isn’t going to stop until they figure it all out. And they are running out of time…

About the Brandon Fisher FBI series:

Profilers. Serial killers. The hunt is on. Do serial killers and the FBI fascinate you? Do you like getting inside the minds of killers, love being creeped out, sleeping with your eyes open, and feeling like you’re involved in murder investigations? Then join FBI agent and profiler Brandon Fisher and his team with the Behavioral Analysis Unit in their hunt for serial killers.

This is the perfect book series for fans of Criminal MindsNCIS, Silence of the Lambs, Seven, Dexter, Luther, and True Crime

Read in any order or follow the series from the beginning.

About the Author

Carolyn Arnold is an international bestselling and award-winning author, as well as a speaker, teacher, and inspirational mentor. She has four continuing fiction series and has written nearly thirty books. Both her female detective and FBI profiler series have been praised by those in law enforcement as being accurate and entertaining, leading her to adopt the trademark, POLICE PROCEDURALS RESPECTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT™.

Connect with CAROLYN ARNOLD Online:

And don’t forget to sign up for her newsletter for up-to-date information on release and special offers at

Friday, March 10, 2017

Counting on Family

Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star

Ginger's 13th year was as unlucky as the number. Many years after that tragic summer, it seems no one has been able to fix anything broken back then. Furthermore, there's her deteriorating relationship with her daughter Julia, and her mother Glory is no less strange now, than she was back then. This book, written in parallel timelines, is a story about secrets, hiding things and what should to let go of vs. what to hold close.

As noted above, Star tells this story through parallel timelines, at least for the most part. One line follows Ginger today, with her daughter and husband and relationship with her sister Mimi and her brood. The other follows Ginger's 13th summer, the one that changed the Tangle family forever while vacationing in Martha's Vineyard. However, around two thirds of the way through the book, the flashback narrative ends, and the rest of the book focuses on only the present. Of course, part of the reason for this is to learn as much about that tragic summer as possible, together with some of the aftermath. The fact is, from quite early on in this book we realize that Star's early timeline is there to reveal the terrible event in this family's past. We also can easily guess what happened. On the one hand, this type of plot development builds up the suspense very nicely, and there are essential elements about Ginger's 13th summer that are vitally important to the story. More importantly, these sections also help us better understand Ginger's relationship with her parents and siblings. However, I think Star drew these sections out just a bit too long for my taste. To be honest, one point I started to feel a bit frustrated and somewhat impatient for Star to get on with the "action." I also felt that this slightly diminished the dramatic impact of the event. In other words, I think if Star had finished the dual narratives by about half way through the book, it might have felt a bit stronger.

Don't get me wrong; I really enjoyed this novel. To begin with, Star's style is very open and frank with a good smattering of humor, of the kind where you'll find yourself grinning. Star also doesn't mess around with overt descriptions of scenery, although you'll certainly get pictures in your head of places like the Vineyard and the beaches. With this, most of the focus of Star's story is on what the characters are feeling as they pass through those places, which further helps develop the atmosphere. Most impressive was how Star developed Ginger to perfection, who is the outstanding protagonist here, and this book really is her story. Star also does a marvelous job with developing Ginger's mother Glory. Star carefully shows the tensions between mother and daughter, particularly where there are secrets between them, paralleled in Ginger's own relationship with her daughter Julia. Together with the other minor characters, we get interplay of relationships, clouded by deceptions that enhance all of Star's situations.

As noted above, as soon as Star finished telling us about the fateful events of Ginger's 13th summer, and its immediate aftermath, this story really took flight. With only the present day events, the story unfolds with increasing tension, straight through to a marvelous twist in the story that you'll never guess is coming from anything that preceded it. From there, Star takes us to a quick conclusion that leaves us with just enough information to make us believe that the whole family has taken a turn towards improving their relationships with each other as well as in their own separate lives. I would even go so far as to say it was gripping, with enough of an emotional bang to make me cry (in a good way). For all of this, I can highly recommend this book and give it a strong four and a half stars out of five. (Warning: Although I would never call this "chic-lit," I do have a gut feeling that this book will appeal more to women than it will to men. Not that there aren't plenty of men out there who will enjoy this book, but my feeling is that this will be a bigger hit with female audiences. Is that sexists of me?)

"Sisters One, Two, Three" by Nancy Star, published by Lake Union Press, released January 1, 2017 is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Becoming the First

Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister

Kate Warne - I'm sure that name means nothing to you. On the other hand, you may have heard of the name Pinkerton. Today that name mostly brings to mind security services, like their armored cars. However, in the mid-19th century, Allan Pinkerton started a detective agency in Chicago, and in 1856, he hired Kate Warne as his first female detective. With the little information left about Warne and her escapades, Macallister weaves a story of intrigue and mystery in her latest historical fiction novel.

Having read Macallister's first novel "The Magician's Lie" I believed I already knew what kind of writing to expect with this novel. Mind you, sometimes a second work by an author whose debut gets quite a bit of hype, can be a disappointment. Thankfully, this was not the case with this novel. In fact, the things that prevented me from giving Macallister's first book five stars are found nowhere in this novel. There are no hints of magical realism, and the ending feels real and strong. What we do get is a impressively told story where Macallister pulls her readers into the story and leads them along just the right paths, which were exactly the things I loved about Macallister's previous book. Furthermore, Macallister once again draws a character in which we can immediately identify, and care about. That Warne was a real person must have made developing her character all the richer, even though many of the facts surrounding some of her Pinkerton cases were lost in the Chicago Fire. Of course, I assume Macallister felt something of an obligation to include those few, remaining well-documented jobs, such as the role (most historians believe) she played in assuring Abraham Lincoln reached Washington safely for his inauguration.

I've often thought that an over abundance of facts can sometimes constrict historical fiction writers and force them to incorporate too many of them in such novels. This also means that if an author takes too much poetic license with the truth, they risk the ire of purists. I'm sure then, that for Macallister in this case, the lack of facts about Warne must have been something of a blessing. She knew that Warne was a widow, but nothing about her husband. She knew that Warne wasn't unattractive, but she was hardly beautiful (from the pictures she found). Of course, she knew that Warne was a pioneer and because of that, Warne must have been exceptionally smart and fast witted. Obviously, how could Warne have been anything less to succeed as the first woman in this man's world of detecting? All this allowed Macallister to take this skeleton of facts, and add not only flesh and bones, but also a heart and a soul.

What I'm trying to say here is that this book is downright amazing, and I'm having a hard time calming my enthusiasm for this novel to write an objective review. With all those elements of the facts (and lack thereof) in place, together with Macallister's vivid imagination and compelling writing style, we get an adventure story that pulls you in and keeps you fascinated until the last word. In fact, the only thing that I found to be just the very slightest bit unlikely was when Pinkerton didn't want to use Warne as a spy during the Civil War. However, I am willing to overlook this, since it is possible Macallister added that to make Pinkerton look selfish and overprotective. Furthermore, Macallister gives us a character study that is undeniably realistic, containing all of Warne's most incredible qualities, while building her into a woman who is at the same time imperfect and vulnerable. It should therefore be no surprise that I'm giving this novel a full five stars (watch for this one to be included in my "best of 2017" list), and highly recommend it. 

(This review is participating in the official blog tour promoting this book. See below to enter the giveaway to get your copy of this book and Macallister's first novel, "The Magician's Lie.")

"Girl in Disguise" by Greer Macallister published by Sourcebooks Landmark (release date March 22, 2017) is available (for pre-order) from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. 

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