Micro-Reviews, December


I’ve been reading a lot, but not finding much time to write full-on reviews. So, here are some micro-reviews, all for books that are either just published, or coming out in the next few months.

8703F7E4-AA98-463F-9179-F2CB1EB0CEA1Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins – New fantasy series get started all the time; some are better than others. This one, my friends, is going to be EPIC! There is nothing here not to love, from the gorgeous cover to the big, fat, luscious story that features women in non-traditional roles (well, at least one of them!) The power held by the women in this story is remarkable, even if some of the characters aren’t always likable. Bluebell is a character to remember. Is there anyone like her in literature today (I haven’t read Game of Thrones, so maybe there is…). Even so, she is the alpha and omega here, the male and female, hero and antihero, and oh, how I love her! Highly recommended.
Publication Date: March 2018

 

2A530BA3-E296-46CF-A7B5-6FF5B4FD18BBChord of Evil by Sarah Rayne – Sarah Rayne has become a go-to author for me – I eagerly read anything she writes, and I constantly recommend her to people in the library and friends in my Reader world. Rayne has a remarkable ability to weave history, horror, mystery, and a little bit of romance into can’t-put-it-down books. She succeeds again with Chord of Evil, the second in her Phineas Fox series. Not every author can pull off a parallel narrative with one set of characters in the present day and another in the past. Rayne has mastered this technique in previous books, and uses it again here as we learn the present day story and how it entwines with the past. If I have one issue with this book, it’s Phin’s reaction to actually meeting the fabulous Arabella in person. He’s disappointed? Are you freaking kidding me? At that moment, Phin is pretty much a jerk, but he comes around. Despite this one issue, this is a winner.
Publication Date: December 2017

72ADCE41-784A-46A7-BC38-AE7768839B2EThe Darkling Bride by Laura Anderson – This transported me back to the 1970s, when I would spend hours browsing the Gothics section of bookstore and library shelves. Everything I loved about Gothics is here – the spunky heroine with a tragedy in her past, the brooding but ridiculously handsome “lord of the manor,” his disagreeable sibling, and the forbidding matriarch – all squished up together in a remote castle or manor with a mystery and maybe a few ghosts. If you love Irish folklore, you will love this book. The story here is original and well developed, the characters appealing, and the outcome satisfying. I had a hard time putting this one down. Recommended for lovers of mysteries & family drama, and for the YA audience.
Publication Date: March 2018

400E1E62-1235-4258-B8FD-77893114B8EADemon Crown by James Rollins – James Rollins delivers another pulse-pounding, action-packed, roller-coaster ride of a story. Once again, we’re dropped down into the world of Sigma Force, and are carried along with the action as Gray and the team race against time to stop a deadly enemy from ending the world. There’s no question about Rollins’ writing ability. He *knows* how to write in a way that grips you by the throat and doesn’t let you go until the very last moment, when you need to breathe more than anything in the world. And that definitely happened here. I’m still having dreams about those effing bees! There are a lot of authors writing action-adventure like Rollins, but where he draws ahead of the pack is in his ability to weave non-fiction elements into whatever global disaster he’s cooked up. In Demon Crown, we learn about bees, a little bit about Imperial Japan, and about amber. Pair that with likable, kickass characters, and there’s no way this one won’t shoot to the top of the charts. Highly recommended.
Publication Date: December 2017

Reader Profile – Maria Thomas Fisher


maria fisher

Maria Thomas Fisher is currently the Chief of staff for the Rochester & Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation. She is the host of the radio show “Still I Rise” on WAYO 104.3 FM, and has worked for the City of Rochester, Rochester City School District, and Rochester Regional Health. Maria is a strong advocate for libraries and a Reader with a capital R!

Write a one-sentence description of yourself as a Reader.

I’m a non-fiction reader and library fanatic who thinks the stories of real people are the most captivating.

What are you reading right now?

I just started reading Gold from the Well. It’s the story of Jocelyn “Josh” Apo and details his journey as a Haitian refugee. Josh survived 17 days crossing the ocean in a flimsy raft in order to make a better life for himself. Josh is now a beloved custodian at Pittsford Central School District. My family came to this country as refugees after surviving a Nazi slave labor camp. Because of their experience, I’m moved deeply by stories of survival and the positive impact refugees have on our communities.

What 5 books would you have to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

The Cuckoo’s Egg by Clifford Stoll
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamont
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Half the Sky by Nicolas Kristoff & Sheryl WuDunn
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Are you a finisher? In other words, are you compelled to finish a book even if you hate it? What are some books that you’ve had to force yourself to finish, or which you’ve bailed on?

I’m more of a delayed finisher. I’ve been working on a doctorate over the last few years and just get so busy sometimes that it can take me a long time to finish a book. If I’m really bored with a book I don’t mind stopping. There are too many great books still to read for me to spend time reading a book that doesn’t interest me. I did force myself to finish reading the book Kindred Spirits which was part of a work reading group. I was bored with it from the beginning and that never changed.

Do you ever read the end of a book first? Why or why not?

I would never read the end of the book first. I love the element of surprise and enjoy not knowing the ending. Plus, I would feel too guilty.

What is at the top of your To Be Read pile?

A Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Who is your go-to author when someone asks you for a recommendation?

Lately, I recommend Ta-Nehesi Coates. He’s an incredibly powerful author.

Would you rather be your favorite author or your favorite character?

I would definitely rather be an author. I like to write and the idea that my writing could move people would be a dream for me.

​What book do you wish you’d never read?

There isn’t a book I read that I regret. However, I am really glad I’ve never read any of the 50 Shades books. They sound dreadful.

Has any book defined your life, as in you would be a different person if you hadn’t read it?

I found Animal Farm to be a powerful, impactful read when I was young and have reread it numerous times. As a young person, it helped me relate to my family’s experiences of living in Ukraine under the Stalinist regime. Obviously, Animal Farm was based in part on Stalin. There are so many powerful words in the book that I still remember “Four legs good, two legs bad.” “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Every time I read the book I am reminded that it is my job to speak for the voiceless and fight for the rights of the vulnerable. It’s very easy to marginalize certain groups of people, just like my family was marginalized. We must always stay vigilant. Everyone should read this book more than once.

Is there a genre or type that you are over and wish would just go away?

I absolutely hate romance novels and romantic comedies for that matter. I find grand romantic gestures boring in novels. I would much rather have someone who picks up my prescriptions and puts gas in my car than a room filled with candles and roses any day. Romance novels just feel so unrealistic. My favorite writing on love was oddly in the classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit. I love the part where the horse tells the rabbit that being real happens when someone loves you not just to play with but really loves you – then you become real. And most of us don’t become real until we’ve lost our hair and we’re loose in the joints. That writing is so powerful for a children’s book and I’m moved to tears every time I read those lines. Romance novels never scratch the surface of real love.

Describe your favorite place to read.

Libraries are my absolutely favorite places to read. We didn’t have much money as a child and my mom would bring me to the library at least three times a week. I never felt poor at the library. At the library, I had the same access to resources as anyone else. I instantly feel at home as soon as I walk in the door of a library. The Irondequoit Library is especially impressive. There are lots of nice, comfy quiet spaces and it’s just a very lovely building. In addition, librarians are about the coolest people in the world.

Book or movie? Is there a movie that you think was better than the book?

I prefer books to movies. Books can go into in depth character detail that movies can’t. I also like that you can use your imagination in books. It isn’t a movie, but I prefer the TV show Orange is the New Black to the book. A significant reason for this is because the actresses on the show are spectacular. Also, the show has had multiple seasons and has gone beyond the stories in the book. I like that the TV show goes into great detail telling each women’s story when the book was focused on Piper’s story.

What is your preferred format? Hardcover, paperback, digital, audio, doesn’t matter?

I only read hardcover and paperback books. There is a satisfaction I get from holding a book and turning pages that I could never get from an audio book. Since I started volunteering with people who are visually impaired, I’ve realized how important it is to have audio books available in order to increase access to books to everyone.

If you were to get a bookish tattoo, what would it be?

I would get the quote. “Books are the best weapon in the world. Arm yourself!” (from a Dr. Who episode).

Down to No Good by Earl Javorsky

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on Tour October 30, 2017 – January 6, 2018

Synopsis:

Down to No Good by Earl Javorsky

Private investigator Charlie Miner, freshly revived from his own murder, gets a call from Homicide Detective Dave Putnam. Self-styled “psychic to the stars” Tamara Gale has given crucial information about three murders, and the brass thinks it makes the Department look bad. Dave wants Charlie to help figure out the angle, since he has first-hand experience with the inexplicable. Trouble is, Charlie, just weeks after his full-death experience, once again has severe cognitive problems and may get them both killed.

If you like your mysteries quirky, this one is definitely for you. Charlie is a likable character, for a dead guy. He’s not a zombie, nor a vampire but he is also not dead or alive. That adds a little weirdness here, since it seems he can just pick up and carry on after “dying.” His cognitive problems add a fuzziness to the whole dead-not-dead thing. I really struggled with liking then not liking this book. The “detective” part is a decent mystery, but the “dead-not-dead” state of the main character added an unnecessary layer of confusion. Javorsky has shown he can write a really good and witty detective story; he just doesn’t need all the other stuff going on.

Earl Javorsky’s DOWN TO NO GOOD is wildly original, wildly energetic, wildly funny – it’s just straight up wild, and I mean that in the best possible way.

– Lou Berney, Edgar Award-winning author of THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE

It’s a shame you missed Down Solo:

“Earl Javorsky’s bold and unusual Down Solo blends the mysterious and the supernatural boldly and successfully. The novel is strong and haunting, a wonderful debut.”

– T. Jefferson Parker, New York Times bestselling author of Full Measure and The Famous and the Dead

“Awesome”

– James Frey, New York Times bestselling author

“Don’t miss Earl Javorsky’s Down Solo. It’s kick-ass, man. Excellent writing. This guy is the real deal.”

– Dan Fante, author of the memoir Fante and the novel Point Doom

“Javorksy’s writing reminded me of the Carl Hiaasen novels I’d read sprawled out on the deck on one sunny Florida vacation. Perfect entertainment, with the right amount of action to keep me alert (and to keep me from snoozing myself into a sunburned state). But there’s also a deeper layer in Down Solo, which left me thinking past the final page.”

– Bibliosmiles

“Javorsky’s dark and gritty prose is leavened with just enough humor to make Down Solo a compelling story that will take readers to the outer limits of noir.”

– San Diego City Beat

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: The Story Plant

Publication Date: October 31st 2017

Number of Pages: 224

ISBN: 1611882532 (ISBN13: 9781611882537)

Series: This is the sequel to DOWN SOLO.

Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗| Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

I wake up looking down at my body, naked on a gurney at the morgue.

No.

That’s a memory.

This has happened to me before.

I was riding my bike, working a case, high as a meteorite that doesn’t yet know it’s about to crash and burn, still happily tooling along in space, at night, wrapped in a warm blanket of summer air, Jack Daniels, and a smidgen of heroin. Some creep shot me in the temple, and I woke up hovering above my own corpse.

This time is different.

Not a gurney. Not the morgue.

A bed. My body, eyes closed, on a bed. I’ve got a bird’s-eye view, hovering like a kite, still tethered, but barely, by an invisible string.

Let’s get clear on my condition. I don’t know what it is, but I know what it is not. I am not a vampire, or a zombie, or a ghost. I’m not a thousand years old, I have no superpowers, and I’ve never been a hero. What I do have is a broken life, a broken family, and, so far, an inexplicable inoculation against dying. And a daughter I would die for—or, in this case, return to life for.

The tether reels me in. I descend toward the body, a mirror image to it, my arms at my sides, my feet slightly apart. Three bullet holes in my face—and one in my gut—are going to need some repair. At contact, I am absorbed and no longer looking down at myself but looking up at the ceiling.

I stretch my fingers, curl them into fists, and stretch them again.

“Jesus holy fucking Christ!”

I know that voice.

I turn my head. It’s awkward, after the lightness of floating, to be in the body, to know its heaviness and vulnerability. There’s a man sitting in a chair next to the bed. He’s a cop, and the first thing I think is: He knows my secret. Now he really knows it. But it’s okay, because he’s also my friend and I trust him. I have to.

“Hey, Dave, how’s it going?” My voice sounds artificial—a forced process of pushing air, modulating vibrations with my vocal cords, shaping syllables with my mouth and tongue. I make my lips grin.

Dave sits there like a stuffed panda in his rumpled white shirt and cheap black sports coat. There’s blood on his clothes. It’s in his fingernails—my blood, dried and caked on his hands. His right hand is clasped around a Heineken, which he finally tilts to his mouth and drains.

I force the body up and into a sitting position, feet on the floor. I flex my fingers a few more times, roll my shoulders, and look at Dave. For a moment, I close my eyes and leave the body, just as an experiment, and roam around the room. From over Dave’s shoulder I watch it slump back into the pillows like a marionette whose strings have been cut. Dave stands and moves toward the bed, but I slip back into the body and work my mouth and tell him it’s okay.

I sit back up and ask Dave, “Why am I naked?”

“Because you were shot full of holes and clinically dead. I brought you back to my place and cleaned you up. I took off your clothes to see how many more bullets there might be in you. Your things are right over there.” He points to a chair in the corner.

“You’re taking this pretty well.”

He shrugs. “I feel like I’m in a bad movie, but hey . . .”

“I appreciate your bringing me here.”

“I knew if I called the paramedics you’d have been sliced and diced at the coroner’s.”

“How long have I been here?”

Dave looks at his watch. “It’s noon. Call it thirty-six hours.”

“What day is it? And date?”

“Wednesday. Last day in August.”

I stand and walk to the chair to get dressed. Roaming—moving freely out of the body—is easier than this, but I’ll adjust. I have before. The gorilla-suit quality of living in the body becomes commonplace, the intentional management of operating the system, beating the heart, making the blood run in the veins, the conscious act of breathing: all of it becomes second nature.

It’s almost like being alive.

***

Excerpt from Down to No Good by Earl Javorsky. Copyright © 2017 by Earl Javorsky. Reproduced with permission from The Story Plant. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Earl Javorsky

Daniel Earl Javorsky was born in Berlin and immigrated to the US. He has been, among other things, a delivery boy, musician, product rep in the chemical entertainment industry, university music teacher, software salesman, copy editor, proofreader, and author of two previous novels, Down Solo and Trust Me.

He is the black sheep of a family of high artistic achievers.

Catch Up With Our Author On: earljavorsky.com 🔗, Goodreads 🔗, Twitter 🔗, & Facebook 🔗!

Tour Participants:

Visit the other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Earl Javorsky and The Story Plant. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card and 2 winners of one (1) eBook copy of Down Solo by Earl Javorsky. The giveaway begins on October 30 and runs through January 8, 2018.

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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

A Pound of Flesh by Alex Gray

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on Tour November 6 – December 6, 2017

Synopsis:

A Pound of Flesh by Alex Gray

In the depths of a freezing winter, Glasgow finds itself at the mercy of not one, but two serial killers

This is Detective Inspector Lorimer’s worst nightmare and beyond anything he’s faced in his many years on the force. Can he find a link between the brutal slaying of prostitutes in the back streets of the city and the methodical killing of several unconnected businessmen?

When the latest victim turns out to be a prominent Scottish politician, the media’s spotlight is shone on Lorimer’s investigation. Psychologist and criminal profiler Solly Brightman is called in to help solve the cases, but his help may be futile as they realize that someone on the inside is leaking confidential police information. Meanwhile two killers haunt the snowy streets and Lorimer must act fast, before they strike again…

Gray has a tightly plotted crime drama here, with a well-developed cast of characters. DCI Lorimer reminds me a bit of Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury, plucked out of the 80s and dropped into 21st century Glasgow. The story is clever and delivered in fairly short chapters, making the switching among points of view a help rather than a hindrance to the overall flow. I’ve not read Gray’s earlier novels, but if this is indicative of her work, I’ll seek them out. I would not be surprised to see this series turned into a television drama and it would make an excellent one. Recommended.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery & Detective

Published by: Witness Impulse

Publication Date: November 7th 2017

Number of Pages: 368

ISBN: 0062659227 (ISBN13: 9780062659224)

Series: DCI Lorimer #9

Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

It wasn’t always easy to see the moon or the stars. This city’s sodium glow rose like yellow fog from its streets, blotting out any chance of star gazing. But she knew it was there. That cold white face dominated her thoughts tonight and she shivered as though it already saw her flesh naked and exposed to its unblinking watchfulness. Perhaps it was because she was trying to be seen that she felt such awareness. The red jersey pencil skirt folded over to create a too-short mini, those agonisingly high-heeled sandals cutting into her bare toes; spread across the bed back in the hotel they had seemed the garb of an adventuress.

Now, revealed in the glare of the street lamp on this corner she felt a sense of…what? Shame? Perhaps. Self-consciousness, certainly. But such feelings must be overcome if her plan was to work.

She had already overcome the blank indifference of the girls down in Waterloo Street, their body language both defiant and compelling. Her hips shifted, one slender foot thrust forwards, as she remembered how they had stood, languidly chewing gum, waiting for their punters. Their desperation drove them to return night after night, the price of a wrap of drugs equating to an hour with some stranger.

Her own need was just as strong, fuelled by a passion that would not be spent until she had fulfilled her desire. It was warm in this Glasgow summer’s night and her black nylon blouse clung to her back, making her uncomfortably aware of her own flesh. The thin cotton coat she’d worn to conceal these trashy clothes as she’d tapped her way across the marble foyer of the hotel was now folded into the black bag at her feet, along with her more sober court shoes. When it was over she would slip them on and return the way she had come, hair clipped in a businesslike pleat. She smiled thinly. Being a woman had some advantages; the facility for disguise was just one of them. Her carefully made-up face was stripped of colour in the unforgiving lamplight, leaving only an impression of dark eyes, darker hair tossed back to reveal a long, determined mouth. She recalled what Tracey- Anne, one of the girls at the drop-in centre, had told her: I get through it by pretending to be someone else for a few hours, then I can be myself again.

Tracey-Anne was lucky, though. After tonight she could never again be the person that she used to be. Glancing at the elegant façades around the square, the dark-haired woman suddenly saw these city streets through different eyes: the shadows seemed blacker, the corners harbouring ill intent. Her chin tilted upwards, defying those inner demons tempting her to turn back.

After tonight things would change for ever. When the car slowed down at the kerb her heart quickened in a moment of anticipation that astonished her. She had expected the thrill of fear, not this rush of excitement sweeping through her blood.

The man behind the wheel had bent his head and she could see his eyes flicking over her hungrily, appraising his choice. He gave a brief nod as if to say he was pleased with his first instinct to stop. Her lip-glossed mouth drawn up in a smile, she stepped forward, willing him to reach across and open the window, ask her price. For a moment he seemed to hesitate and she could see tiny beads of sweat on his upper lip, glistening in the light. Then the door of the big car swung open noiselessly and she lowered herself inside, swinging her legs neatly together to show as much thigh as she could. But the gestures were still ladylike, almost reserved, as if she knew that would quicken his senses.

‘How much?’ he asked. And she told him, one shoulder moving insouciantly as if to declare that she wasn’t bothered whether he could afford her or not: someone else would pay that price if he wouldn’t. She glanced at him briefly, catching sight of the tip of his tongue flicking at his lips like a nervous lizard, then he made a gruff noise of assent, looking at her again, as though to be sure of his purchase, before accelerating into the night.

***

Excerpt from A Pound of Flesh by Alex Gray. Copyright © 2017 by Alex Gray. Reproduced with permission from Witness Impulse. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Alex Gray

Alex Gray was born and educated in Glasgow. After studying English and Philosophy at the University of Strathclyde, she worked as a visiting officer for the Department of Health, a time she looks upon as postgraduate education since it proved a rich source of character studies. She then trained as a secondary school teacher of English. Alex began writing professionally in 1993 and had immediate success with short stories, articles, and commissions for BBC radio programs. She has been awarded the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her crime writing. A regular on the Scottish bestseller lists, she is the author of fourteen DCI Lorimer novels. She is the co-founder of the international Scottish crime writing festival, Bloody Scotland, which had its inaugural year in 2012.

Connect with Alex Gray on her Website 🔗 & Twitter 🔗.

 

Tour Participants:

Visit the other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

Giveaway:

 

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Alex Gray and Witness Impulse. There will be 3 winner of one (1) eBook copy of Alex Gray’s SLEEP LIKE THE DEAD. The giveaway begins on November 6 and runs through December 10, 2017.

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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

Killer Holiday by Amy Korman

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On Tour October 23 – November 30, 2017

Synopsis:

Killer Holiday by Amy Korman

Kristin Clark and her offbeat crew of Bryn Mawr socialites are ready for a fun and festive winter holiday—one that involves sipping martinis by a crackling yule log, hot guys beneath the mistletoe, and Gucci under the Christmas tree. But this year, Old Saint Nick has something more dangerous in store. A stranger dressed in a Santa suit has Kristin’s friends on his naughty list. First, Sophie’s favorite handbag is blasted by a bullet. Then, Father Christmas shatters her brother Chip’s car window with a golf club and leaves a threatening note demanding fifty grand. Both are convinced it has to be a mistake. But when Chip goes missing, the stakes become deadly. Eula Morris is also back in town for the holidays, more bossy and boastful than ever after winning a mega-jackpot in the lottery. She’s returned from a luxury cruise around the world with a handsome new boyfriend (who looks oddly familiar…) and a Samsonite suitcase filled with gold bars. When the suitcase is snatched, Eula implores Kristin and the team to track it down. Where is Chip? Why is a vengeful Santa targeting the gang? Who stole Eula’s suitcase? And how are these events linked? The WASPs and Kristen’s basset hound Waffles are on the case—before this white Christmas turns even darker.

If you’re looking for a ridiculously funny mystery populated with Drama Queens who shriek and scream one-liners and non-sequiturs, this series is for you. I’ve lost my taste for “cozy” mysteries because they have all become so formulaic – full of cardboard, deadly dull characters. With Killer Holidays, Amy Korman has taken the cozy mystery, dressed it in Gucci, soaked it in good vodka, and then propped it up with clever, in-your-face storytelling. Implausible? You bet. Does it work? Absolutely. Recommended for mystery readers who take their mysteries with a good red wine and some quality cheese.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: Witness Impulse

Publication Date: October 24th 2017 by Witness Impulse

Number of Pages: 320

ISBN: 0062431366 (ISBN13: 9780062431363)

Series:  A Killer WASPs Mystery, #4

Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Bootsie McElvoy burst through the front door of The Striped Awning, a bag of ice in her right hand and the biggest bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon I’ve ever seen in her left. She dug into her L.L. Bean tote for a bottle of red wine, a shaker of nutmeg, and a bag of fun-size candy canes, all of which she deposited next to a display of 1940s barware near the front of my antiques store.

“Kristin, it’s December fifteenth, which means it’s time for you to start offering shoppers a specialty cocktail the minute they set foot inside your store,” Bootsie told me. “I’m going to mix up a batch of the Delaney family Christmas drink, the Bourbon Blitzen, which never fails to produce a White Christmas vibe. One sip and you’ll feel like you’re singing and dancing with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye at a snowy Vermont inn. This should double your sales totals for the month.”

“Thanks!” I said gratefully, since Bootsie’s family’s boozy drinks are known throughout our village of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, for their potency and tendency to produce unwise purchases.

“The drinks sound good, but you’re also going to need about four thousand more of these pinecones, triple the greenery, and eight hundred additional strands of lights,” Joe Delafield informed me; he’d arrived twenty minutes earlier to help me decorate my store for the Christmas rush.

To lure in passing foot traffic, I’d brought in armloads of holly and spruce branches from my backyard (cost: free, thankfully), spray-painted pinecones silver (the paint was only $5.28 at the hardware store), and added some cheerful-looking blinking white lights. This would probably bring tons of holiday shoppers through my front door!

Joe paused, eyeing the room with his signature critical stare. “The effect I’m going for is that a bunch of HGTV-crazed elves with subscriptions to Veranda magazine snuck in and decorated for four straight days. Gerda, we’re going to need the blinking lights to stop blinking, pronto. Pull the plug, please.”

Joe’s assistant for the day was the eponymous owner of Gerda’s Bust Your Ass Gym, which is housed inside the beauty salon across the street. Since Gerda stands a lofty six feet tall in flats (or sneakers, which is her usual footwear, since fancy shoes aren’t her style), she’d agreed to hang ornaments, bringing her signature grim attitude to the proceedings.

“Cute idea,” Bootsie observed, casting a dubious stare at my front window, which was filled with antique silver-plated candlesticks, flatware, and wineglasses. “Is that your holiday inventory?”

“Nobody going to want that stuff,” said Gerda, who moved here from her native Austria a few years back. Gerda, who’s incredibly muscular and brings in sell-out crowds at her Pilates classes, isn’t the most tactful person in the world. “People want, like, scarves and Fitbits and iPhones.”

I sighed, knowing Gerda was right. Those were the gifts on most holiday wish lists.

“Luckily, I’ve solved all your problems,” Bootsie told me. “I ran into Eddie from the Pub this morning, and he needs a place to hold some late-night poker tournaments this month, so I brokered a deal for The Striped Awning. You’ll be hosting twice-weekly games from 10 p.m. till 1 a.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays till Valentine’s Day.”

“What!” I erupted, alarmed by this idea. “First of all, that doesn’t sound legal.”

“It’s fine,” she told me, waving away my concerns. “I mean, it’s not like it will be a professional betting operation. Eddie’s limiting each night to ten players and three hours. Some cards, a few drinks, a few small wagers. What could go wrong?”

“A lot!” I said. “They’ll blow cigar smoke and drop Dorito crumbs everywhere. Not to mention get arrested for operating a casino without a license. A lot could go wrong!”

“You worry too much,” Bootsie informed me dismissively. “Plus, he’ll pay you two hundred dollars a night.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but no words came out. Bootsie knew she had me—there’s no way I can refuse an extra four hundred dollars a week, even if it puts me on the wrong side of the state gaming commission.

Just then, though, the front door was thrown open by one Sophie Shields, a tiny blonde who at the moment was looking slightly wild-eyed.

“Ya won’t believe what just happened!” shrieked Sophie. “The Colketts were helping me put up curtains in my new dining room, since Joe here never finished decorating my place—and the curtains are orange silk, by the way, they’re totally Elle Decor meets a J. Lo red-carpet gown. So Tim and Tom Colkett were talking paint colors when I heard a horn honking, so I opened the front door, thinking it was the delivery boy from the Hoagie House. I figured I’d go out and pay the driver, when boom!

“A guy dressed as Santa leaned out of the driver’s seat of a black SUV that had pulled right up in my driveway and aimed a gun at me and the Colketts!” The Colketts are the town’s leading landscape designers, who’ve lately turned their talents to party planning and interior design.

“Then the guy yelled, ‘Hey, Sophie, this one’s from your ex, Barclay!’ and shot my favorite handbag!” Sophie finished. “I was reaching into it to pay for the hoagies, thank goodness, so it acted as a protective shield. Also, I think maybe this Santa guy doesn’t have great aim.”

We all stared at her for a moment.

“Are you sure, Sophie?” said Bootsie finally. “Because this sounds like BS.”

“Yeah, Sophie, maybe you been hitting the wine bottle today,” seconded Gerda. “I know the Colketts are day drinkers. Maybe you been guzzling alcohol, too.”

“It’s true!” Sophie bleated. “Just look at this Ferragamo satchel! If it hadn’t had gold hardware to block the trajectory of the bullet, me and the Colketts would have been toast!”

***

Excerpt from Killer Holiday by Amy Korman. Copyright © 2017 by Amy Korman. Reproduced with permission from Witness Impulse. All rights reserved.

 

Amy Korman

Author Bio:

Amy Korman is a former senior editor and staff writer for Philadelphia Magazine, and author of Frommer’s Guide to Philadelphia. She has written for Town & Country, House Beautiful, Men’s Health, and Cosmopolitan. Killer WASPS is her first novel.

Catch Up With Ms. Korman On: amykorman.com 🔗, Goodreads 🔗, Twitter 🔗, & Facebook 🔗!

 

Tour Participants:

Visit the other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

Giveaway:

 

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Amy Korman and Witness Impulse. There will be 3 winners of one (1) eBook copy of KILLER PUNCH by Amy Korman. The giveaway begins on October 23 and runs through December 3, 2017.

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Creating a Culture of Reading In Rochester


img_0427Recently, local reporter Erica Bryant wrote about a “reading crisis” in Rochester, expressing outrage and alarm over the apparent lack of reading skills among Rochester residents. Bryant proposed creating a “gigantic youth literacy initiative” as a gift in honor of Frederick Douglass’ 200th birthday coming up in 2018.

Speaking as the Director of the Rochester Public Library and Monroe County Library System, and as a member of Mayor Lovely Warren’s Senior Management Team, I will argue that our reading crisis will be solved not by a huge “initiative” or another “blue ribbon panel” but by small, community based actions such as those put in place by the City and by community members over the last few years which demonstrate and promote a culture of reading.

It will be solved by average citizens modeling reading behavior to children and low-literate adults.

It will be solved by creating more and more opportunities to get books into people’s hands and homes, and by helping those who are learning to master the act of reading discover the beauty and power of the written word.

The City of Rochester and the Rochester Public Library have implemented many small-scale reading programs and projects in the last few years. Some of those include the library’s popular Raising a Reader program which focuses on reading as a family activity. Partnering with ABC Headstart classrooms and daycares, Raising a Reader provides new books to participating families every week over the course of several months. Staff works with the parents to help them understand the importance of reading with their children every day, and that the act of reading together as a family can be very intimate and special, both for the child and the parent.

41038A34-AEF9-4E59-9EFC-C8BF5107701ARaising a Reader has been successful in introducing young children to reading for pleasure, but it has also opened doors for parents who are ready and eager to improve their reading skills. As reading becomes important to the parent, it also becomes important to the child.

Recently, Raising a Reader families reported that their children more frequently asked to look at and read books at home, that they had more books in their homes, and that the average length of time the children and parents read together increased by more than 50% since last year.

Mayor Warren and her staff understand the importance of having books in the home, and have rolled out several programs and projects that help get books into the hands of community members, especially children.

Storytime with Style has distributed more than 2,000 books through twelve barbershops and beauty salons in the City. These books are placed on special shelves for people – adults and children – to read while waiting for a haircut, and then take home when they’re finished. The stylists, by having the books in their salons, demonstrate the value and importance of reading to children and adults alike. They make reading part of the community culture.

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Mayor Warren has also created an online community which encourages reading in the home. Rochester Families Read is a Facebook group where information about reading and education is shared with more than 300 group members. Reading recommendations, information about educational events and activities, and inspirational messages about reading are frequently shared in this group, which is open to anyone.

Distribution of books to children, teens, and adults has become an important part of the library’s outreach efforts. You will often find one of the library’s Books By Bike stations at area farmers markets and community events, giving books away. Our riders regularly report they are constantly flagged down on their way between stops by people who are anxious to get a book.

In addition, you will find shelves of free books in many locations throughout the City, maintained by community volunteers and by library staff. Since 2015, the library distributed more than 2 million free books through nearly 200 locations in the City, including WIC sites, Family Court waiting rooms, corner stores, and laundromats.

The most frequently requested books? The Bible and cookbooks.

Through a partnership with Monroe County, the library has placed Americorps volunteers in DHS offices to engage families in literacy activities while they wait, and to introduce them to the library system. Families can apply for library cards in DHS offices, and are welcomed to their local library once they receive their library card in the mail.

Other community led efforts to distribute books can be found in the dozens of Little Free Libraries located throughout the City. Some were built and distributed by City staff, but many were provided through a grassroots, citizen-led group called The Snowball Effect, which raised over $9,000 and distributed 20 pre-built little libraries several years ago. These libraries are maintained by their “stewards,” usually a homeowner or community member. They operate on the “take a book, leave a book” principle and are free to access. By installing a Little Free Library in your neighborhood, you’re telling the world that you are a Reader and that reading matters.

Perhaps the most impactful method of book distribution is the Books and Bears program begun by the Mayor’s Office of Constituent Services and the Rochester Police Department. With supplies collected entirely through private donations, this program provides RPD officers with teddy bears and a books to give to children who are caught up in a traumatic experience. The bear and the book provide a small amount of comfort in a difficult situation, creating an experience for the child that equates books with something good.

Many community partners like Literacy Volunteers of Rochester provide programs for low-literate adults throughout the region. Adult literacy is critical to solving big issues such as unemployment, poverty, and crime. Bob Mahar, Director of Literacy Volunteers, recently shared these statistics:

  • 43% of adults with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty
  • 50% of the chronically unemployed are functionally illiterate
  • 76% of adults on public assistance are low literate  or unable to read more than simple text
  • Public assistance recipients with the lowest literacy skills stay on assistance the longest
  • Parents who can’t read are likely to have children who can’t read well
  • 75% of prisoners fall into the lowest two levels of literacy
  • 85% of juvenile offenders have reading problems

Clearly, low literacy affects ones ability to learn, work, and prosper, underscoring the critical need to address literacy first. Literacy Volunteers is always looking for volunteers to help deliver their services. Give them a call at 473-3030!

The number of children, teens, and adults who use our libraries every day are one indicator that we are making some progress in solving the “reading crisis” Bryant wrote about, but it is not enough.

Every person in our City who can read should embrace that skill and share it with others.

  • Model reading behavior by carrying a book with you and pulling it out while you wait in line.
  • If you’re a digital reader, comment to those around you that you just can’t wait to find out what happens next as you open your e-reading app on your phone.
  • Make a habit of talking about what you’re reading.
  • Add a line to your email signature about what you’re currently reading.
  • If you tweet, use #Recommendsday and #RocReads to recommend a book to your followers every Wednesday.
  • Become a Literacy Volunteer and teach someone to read.
  • Use your local libraries and encourage everyone you know to use them!

Solving this crisis is up to us. Read early. Read often. Read everywhere.

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I’d Rather Be Reading by Guinevere de la Mare


12E9413C-CB5C-4D22-BE60-5E1584801C69Here’s an unusual factoid about Readers: not only do we love to read, we love to read about reading. There’s all sorts of books about books and reading, but Guinevere de la Mare has produced one of the loveliest little books-about-books I’ve seen in quite some time. She alternates a luscious variety of images – drawn, painted, collaged, photographed – with three heartfelt and earnest essays by Maura Kelly, Gretchen Rubin, and Ann Patchett. The images and essays blend into one delightful little book (and it is small enough to slip into a pocket or purse).

Maura Kelly writes about her “Slow Books Manifesto” in which she posits that we should all turn to literature, to books that take some time to read and will become our companions for weeks at a time. Books we savor and think about when we’re not reading. Books that we remember and books that change our way of thinking. I like it….

Ann Patchett writes a short essay explaining how she answered when asked to name her 25 favorite books. She gave it a lot of thought, and produced an eclectic list ranging from Jane Austen to John le Carre to Alice Munro to John Updike. After giving us her list, she went on to answer questions similar to those I pose in the Reader Profiles I feature in this blog. All in all, an intriguing insight into one of our most prolific and successful contemporary authors.

Gretchen Rubin writes about how she tries to organize her time so she can read more. She gives advice such as “Quit Books” – don’t force yourself to finish a book you’re not enjoying, There are too many other things to read out there! Other tips include watch recorded TV, skim, keep a big stack of books to be read, plan time to read more difficult books, and always have something to read.

The art here is engaging and lovely, and includes a colored rendering of a shelf of books that looks very much like it came from the Ideal Bookshelf, one of my favorite bookish artists. There are memes here, along with simple drawings of books, detailed renderings of books and readers, and some nice photography.

This would make a sweet gift for the Reader (with a capital R) in your life. It’s a quick read, but could become a book your favorite Reader goes back to again and again. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: August 15, 2017

Hunch by Bernadette Jiwa


97FEF938-BD16-459A-B93F-FE3609A18274The subtitle of this book is a bit more descriptive: “Turn Your Everyday Insights Into the Next Big Thing.” Jiwa packs a decent amount of information into this short book that is all about trusting your gut and taking risks.

We’ve all had hunches – those times when we’re pretty sure something is going to happen, or that this way is the right way. Jiwa delves into what distinguishes a hunch from a guess, and boils it down to three things: curiosity, empathy, and imagination. She devotes chapters to each, but provides a half-page summary that everyone should print out and hang on a wall where they see it every day. It’s on page 81; below is a synopsis.

Curiosity = Interest + Attention – notice things and think about how to make them better.
Empathy = Worldview + Understanding – be able to put yourself in the shoes of someone experiencing a problem.
Imagination = Context + Experience – learn how to think about what already exists in a different way.

The most consistent theme throughout the book is the directive to pay attention – to your own experiences and to those of the people around you. There are several sections with activities the reader can perform to hone those paying-attention skills. Several years ago, I developed a set of observational exercises to examine and learn how people were currently using my library. Those exercises were grade school work compared to what Jiwa suggests. My mind was flying, imagining all the places I could use those exercises and what I wanted to learn from them. So much potential there…

Hunch is a slim book, and can be read in an hour or two, but it will leave you thinking about it for a very long time. If you are looking to change up your career, or are beginning any planning work within your organization, set aside some time and absorb this little gem.

Many thanks to Seth Godin and Niki Papadopoulos (Penguin Random House) and altMBA for sharing this book with me.

 

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor


667421B5-924F-4182-94A9-07CB4F318AE1Sunny, an American girl, finds herself transported to Nigeria when her family decides to move back to their home there. Being American is the least of Sunny’s challenges. Sunny is albino, which means she can’t go out in the sun without an umbrella to protect her skin. Sunny also experiences odd visions which thoroughly frighten her. She becomes friends with a boy in her class who then introduces her to another girl, who puzzles Sunny with her secretive behavior. Eventually, Sunny is revealed as a powerful witch, and she goes on to explore her heritage and powers.

This book was described by multiple sources as a “new Harry Potter” which is what made me request an advanced copy from Netgalley. The premise is similar – a young outcast discovers she has magical powers and must use those powers to defeat a powerful enemy. That’s about the only similarity to HP, and I think it is a mistake to compare these two richly imagined stories because they really are nothing alike.

Akata Witch introduces a whole new world of magic, raw and powerful, and a new cast of characters who (Hallellujah!) are young Africans, two of whom are girls! The language and culture of the story and the characters provided a palate cleansing freshness, and an intriguing, clever plot. There is nothing here not to love and I predict kids will devour this book. Highly recommended.

 

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn


63015F11-62D8-4D94-AF5D-84294F64F38EThe Veronica Speedwell I came to admire in A Curious Beginning is back and as fierce as ever! The semi-acknowledged, illegitimate daughter of the Prince of Wales, Veronica is an independent “modern” woman (or as independent and modern as one can be in 19th century England) who collects and studies butterflies, and has a healthy appetite for sex. She lives and works with Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, a rake of the highest order.

I was left a bit disappointed in the second book in this series, A Perilous Undertaking, and I wrote then that I felt the chemistry between Veronica and Stoker was missing. Well, no more. The sparks literally flew off the page in this one, and I was quite taken with the restraint with which Veronica comported herself during the most stressful scenes with Stoker. Raybourn has done a skillful job of slowly developing both main characters, revealing bits of their past lives in each entry in this series. Readers are kept waiting and anticipating how and when the author will achieve the coupling we are all hoping for in the future, although I am wondering if the Viscount Templeton-Vane will throw a wrench in the works of that happening.

All that speculation aside, A Treacherous Curse is a rollicking good adventure, riffing off the “Egyptian curse” trope so popular in fiction set in the late 19th and early 20th century, but not relying on the curse to move the action forward. Here, Veronica and Stoker are engaged to find the crown of an Egyptian princess which disappeared from a a dig in the Valley of Kings. Matters are complicated by the fact that a member of the dig has also disappeared, who just happens to be the man responsible for the break up of Stoker’s marriage. As usual, the author has introduced some colorful characters and trotted in old favorites from past stories (Lady Wellie is a favorite). The story is not a new one (you will find similar characters and plot elements in many of the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters), but this series is really all about Veronica and Stoker. Raybourn can set them down inside any story and have a successful novel if she keeps focused on their relationship. Recommended for fans of blended mystery-adventure-romance-historical-fiction. Well done!