My Little Eye by Stephanie Marland

My Little EyeMy Little Eye

by Stephanie Marland
Series: Starke & Bell, #1

eARC, 351 pg.
Trapeze Books, 2018

Read: March 9 – 12, 2018

They say I was dead for three thousand and six seconds. They say that when I woke I was different, but I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that my world became a different place once every one of those precious seconds had expired.

No matter how gripping the prologue might have been, when those’re the first words you get from a character’s POV, you sit up and pay attention.

The Lover is a serial killer just beginning to plague London, and a semi-distracted DI Dominic Bell with his team are making little progress in apprehending him (he’s trying his level best not to be distracted by the press and the brass won’t let him leave his last operation in the dust). Given that the Lover’s technique is improving as the time between kills is decreasing, the pressure is mounting for Bell and the police. One group dissatisfied with their achievements are the members of True Crime London — a group of True Crime aficionados from (duh) London. Some of them have decided to take matters into their own hands so they’ll investigate these crimes themselves — some for the thrill, some to show up the Police, some to draw attention to the fact that the Police are understaffed and underfunded. Clementine has her own reasons — she’s spent some time studying these people as part of her doctoral work in psychology; she hopes to get a better understanding of online communities through this group and she has a theory about “crowd-sourcing justice” she’d like to establish.

We meet both groups (through Dom’s POV and Catherine’s) as they begin to look into the third victim of The Lover. The race is on (even if only one group realizes there’s a race) to find and put a stop to The Lover. I wouldn’t mind more time getting to know the individuals in the respective teams as this goes along — we do get to know some of the people involved in the investigation a bit, but this book focuses on Dom, Clementine and their hunts — everyone else doesn’t matter as much. I could talk a little more about the context for Dom, Clementine and the hunt for the killer — but you don’t want to know more until you get into this book.

The killer? We learn exactly as much as we need to in order that we know that the right guy has been taken care. He is not the most interesting character in the novel — I guess he might be, but Marland didn’t give us enough detail. This is such a great change from serial killer novels that dwell on the obsessions/fetishes/compulsions/methods of the killer, that seem to relish the opportunity to revel in the depravity. Marland shows us enough to be disturbed and utterly sickened by him, to believe that he’s capable of the heinous acts he’s guilty of — and no more. I’m not saying everyone has to write a serial killer this way, but I love that approach.

The protagonists are far more interesting — possibly more damaged even — than the killer. They are wonderfully flawed characters and repeatedly — and I do mean repeatedly — do things that readers will not want them to — because it’s unwise, stupid, dangerous, unethical, immoral, or all of the above. And as much as I was saying “No, no, don’t do that,” I was relishing them do that because it meant great things for the book. At times it’s almost like Marland wants you to not like Dom or Clementine, maybe even actively dislike them. Set that aside, because you will like them, because they are the protagonists hunting for a serial killer; because despite themselves they are likeable characters; and because they’re so well written, with so many layers, and nuances that it’s impossible for Marland to fully explore them and you want to know more. Both are in the middle of professional and personal crises as the book opens — and all of those crises are going to get worse before we leave them (yeah, Dom’s professional life is in worse shape than Clementine’s and Clementine’s been in crisis since just before those 3,006 seconds, so they’re not exactly parallel).

Sometimes the police investigation and the True Crime London’s investigation dig up the same information at about the same time, but on the whole the two follow very different approaches — one more methodical, careful and predictable. The other is haphazard, reckless and (at times) criminal. But both get results, and for the reader, we get a full-orbed view of the investigation which is almost as engrossing as the protagonists carrying it out.

The book is able to say a lot about online communities, True Crime (and some of those who love it as a genre), public acts of grief, criminal investigations and the media — and even a little about memory. All while telling a great story.

While I enjoyed the whole thing, the last quarter of the book was full of surprises that kept me leaning forward in my chair and completely glued to my screen as the plot raced from shock to shock to reveal to [redacted]. There’s a reveal that took me utterly by surprise, but made sense when you stopped and thought about it. There’s another reveal at the end that seemed fitting but wasn’t what you expected — and it followed an event that I never would’ve predicted. Oh, and that last sentence? I can’t tell you how many times I swiped my Kindle screen trying to get what comes next, unwilling to believe that was it.

I was a fan (almost instantaneously) of Marland’s alter ego’s Lori Anderson and that series. My Little Eye has made me a fan of the author — Broadribb, Marland, whatever names she’s publishing under, it’s an instabuy. This book got its hooks into me straightaway and didn’t let go, I resented work and family as they distracted me (however good or pressing the reason) from Clementine and Dom’s quests. I can confidently say that I’ve not read a mystery novel like this one — and that’s not easy this many decades into my love of the genre. I have no idea how Marland’s going to follow this one up — there’s no way that book 2 is a repeat of My Little Eye, but beyond that? No clue what she’ll be able to do. I don’t care — I just want to read it soon.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Orion Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.


4 1/2 Stars


Guest Post (and Giveaway!): 3 Things New Authors Need to Know About Self-Publishing by Michael Phillip Cash

Today, I’m happy to welcome to our humble e-abode Michael Phillip Cash, multi-genre author, screenwriter, and all-around good egg (I assume). After some wise words about self-publishing (a topic he probably knows more than three things about), there’s a link to a giveaway. The giveaway prizes are a $25 Amazon gift card and the signed 4-book A Haunting on Long Island series. I haven’t read the series, but it looks like a pretty solid and intense time. Enjoy!

Michael Phillip Cash3 Things New Authors Need to Know About Self-Publishing

by Michael Phillip Cash

As the self-published author of more than ten novels, I can definitely say I know a bit about the process of self-publishing. I’ve been at it for years and I’ve accumulated a lot of information and I love passing it on to anyone looking to publish his or her own books. Below are just a few of the things I’ve learned along my self-publishing journey.

Get Your Name Out There
Publicity is everything. If you’re not making a brand for yourself, don’t bother writing. Your name should be known by as many people as possible. Get social on social media and do some genuine engaging. Join online writer’s groups and post often. Position yourself as the go-to guy or gal for self-publishing related info. People tend to be more inclined to return the favor when it comes time to share your book info.

Wait, Wait and Wait Some More
You’re going to spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for your book to be discovered. Waiting for your book to be read. Waiting for book reviews to be posted. Waiting for a mega movie deal.  Just waiting. Don’t let that discourage you. Remember, good things come to those who wait.

Keep Followers Informed
Tell people what’s happening via newsletters, social media posts and word of mouth. As you grow your list of followers and subscribers, you need to keep them up to date on your writing, publishing and marketing efforts.

Marketing, promoting, informing and waiting is all part of the self-publishing process. I won’t lie. Self-publishing can be difficult and time-consuming, but it is definitely incredibly fun and rewarding.

Michael Phillip Cash is the author of the four-book series A Haunting on Long Island. Readers can connect with Michael on his website and Facebook.

and now, as promised, the Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32 by B.C.R. Fegan, Lenny Wen

Don't Ever Look Behind Door 32Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32

by B.C.R. Fegan, Lenny Wen (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 32 pg.
TaleBlade Press, 2018

Read: March 10, 2018

I was excited — yes, really — to get the email from TaleBlade asking if I’d like a copy of this book. Fegan/Wen’s previous book, Henry and the Hidden Treasure, was one of my favorite books of last year. Could they live up to that one? Thankfully, they could at least come close.

In these pages, Mr. Nicholas Noo takes two children on a tour of “the magical Hotel of Hoo” showing them all the wonderful things in store and repeatedly warning them, “Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32.” He shows what’s behind every other door in between the warnings, most of which is wonderful, some of which is just . . . odd (which I prefer, really). Unlike Disney’s Beast, however, Noo does more than tell the children not to go somewhere, he ultimately tells them why they shouldn’t go there.

I can’t tell you what a pleasant change that is — even if this book is intended for kids — to get a book where a character just tells the others characters everything they need to know to react in a responsible manner. But this isn’t the place for that rant (as tempting as it is).

This book isn’t as good as last year’s Henry and the Hidden Treasure but it’s close — the last page or so of Henry was a sweet note, this ended with a reveal/punchline. Is it bad? No — not at all, it’s just not as good in my eyes. That said, a punchline ending isn’t going to satisfy even a 3-4 year old on the 32nd read through (at least not on its own), but Fegan and Wen don’t rely on that — the book is full of jokes, clever lines, visual wonder, and lots of things to pay attention to along the way.

Sure, you want the book to be appealing to kids, but the real key to success for a kid’s book is appealing to parents/grandparents/caregivers. They’re the ones who have to read, reread, rereread, and rereread again these things. Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boyton enjoy long-lived success because adults enjoy reading them. I think I judge books like this on this standard, but I rarely do it self-consciously. This is one of those books that adults can have fun with even on the fourth “just one more time” of the night. Which has nothing to do with the big reveal at the end, but the trip you take along the way.

Wen’s art is just delightful. Really — the colors are vibrant, the characters look great, there’s something extra to grab your eye on every page. (which is also great for adult readers)

I’d say something neat about the typeface — it’s part of the look of the book, it’s fair game. But I say anything beyond “even the typeface is great looking” I’ll show I have no idea what I’m talking about, so that’s all I’m going to say there.

I can honestly say that I never envisioned having this much to say about a 32 page book, but once I got started, I couldn’t really stop. I really dug this book, you will, too — especially if you have kids to read it to.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinions about this book.


4 Stars

A Few (more) Quick Questions With…David Ahern

David Ahern was nice enough to answer some questions for me when his debut novel, Madam Tulip, came out and somehow, I got him back for another round as we prepare for the release of Book 3 in the series, Madam Tulip and the Bones of Chance. I talked about it earlier today, and really recommend you go grab it (pre-orders are being taken now, it releases April 12).

Anyway, here’s the new batch of questions:

So it’s been almost 2 years since your first novel came into the world, How’s the reality of that (and the follow-up book) match up with your hopes/expectations? Other than James Patterson, I’m sure every writer wants better sales, but are readers being generally receptive?
The important thing for me is that readers enjoy the books, especially the characters; and happily people seem to love Derry and her friends. That’ll do. There are a lot of books out there, and anyone who imagines they’ll be an overnight best-seller isn’t paying attention.
Has your writing process changed? Are things coming easier now — or are you finding yourself working harder as your craft improves?
Writing is a funny old thing. Parts are a hoot, and hugely enjoyable. Other parts are a pain, and like any craft hard work. In a way the job does get harder in that you’ve set the bar for yourself and you want each book to be better than the last. At the same time, you’ve got a comfortable storytelling rhythm you can settle into, and that’s nice.
In Madam Tulip, it seemed like most of this fortune-telling was a joke, Derry being a good listener with a flair for the dramatic and possibly a touch of something else (if you believed in that sort of thing). But in each book since, you seem to be emphasizing the reality of Derry’s gift. Unless I’m misreading that, was that your plan all along, or something you stumbled on to? Do you see this continuing, or will there be a resurgence of the ambiguity?
Hey, this is Ireland. We can believe stuff and laugh at the same time. Seriously though, the main thing is that Derry’s modest powers don’t help her solve mysteries – that would be cheating. But a sensitive person, psychic or not, will sense disturbances and respond unconsciously to situations that don’t seem right or are somehow contradictory or even dangerous. Derry has that ability. It can be scary.
Talk to me a little about Bruce — your Hawk/Joe Pike/Wallace Fennel/Ranger character. I’m not really sure I have a question about him — just tell me something about him and/or writing him.
Almost every woman I know has a close gay male friend they love. I guess because there’s the possibility of a strong friendship without romantic complications. It’s a happy kind of relationship and often a lot of fun. The other side of Bruce is his background as a Navy SEAL. When I was a film maker, I developed a tremendous respect for a certain type of military personality. Bruce has the balanced confidence and extreme competence I associate with the best soldiers (and sailors, of course, as Bruce would remind you).
What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
Ooh, that’s too hard. I’m probably strange, but I only envy non-fiction writers. I read some people and I think, ‘how do you get to be that clever?’ But then I relax, remembering that mostly it’s best not to have a clue.
Thanks so much for the book, these characters and for spending some more time answering my questions — I hope The Bones of Chance is a success!

Madam Tulip and the Bones of Chance by David Ahern

Madam Tulip and the Bones of ChanceMadam Tulip and the Bones of Chance

by David Ahern
Series: Madam Tulip, #3

Kindle Edition, 368 pg.
Malin Press, 2018

Read: March 5 – 6, 2018

Many people doubt psychic powers exist, but the doubters do not include actors. Everyone in showbusiness knows that as soon as one actor learns of a casting, actors of all ages, ethnicities, creeds and genders are instantly aware of every detail. Einstein claimed that faster-than-light communication is impossible. Einstein was not an actor.

But not even the actors that Derry, Bruce and Bella knew had an inkling of the dash of good fortune heading toward Derry and Bruce — they were given roles in a movie without the need to audition, if they could get themselves to Northern Scotland and Derry might have to give a reading or two. For readers new to this, Derry played the role of Madam Tulip on occasion — giving psychic readings at parties and the like. Derry was initially reluctant to take the role, but she needed the work — and Bruce only got his job if she took hers.

So they find themselves in Scotland — a land not necessarily ready for or welcoming toward people making a film. Which almost describes the director, too. He’s clearly nuts — and not in the genius filmmaker kind of way. Many of the other professionals on set did seem to know what they’re doing, which went a long way to keeping the production running. But mostly, the antics on the set made for good comedy. Derry is given a set of bones on set to add to her gypsy character’s fortune telling routine in the historical drama.

While practicing with the bones, Derry starts to have visions, we’ll get into that later, but it’s clear that she’s gotten herself into more than meets the eye (again).

The most striking and interesting people in the book aren’t on the film set — believe it or not. As the blurb on the back says,

A millionaire banker, a film producer with a mysterious past, a gun-loving wife, a PA with her eyes on Hollywood, a handsome and charming estate manager—each has a secret to share and a request for Madam Tulip.

As usual, Derry’s desire to help people and natural nosiness gets her involved in these people’s lives (okay, she might have less altruistic motives about the estate manager). And that’s before someone tries to kill her and/or one of her new friends. Once that happens, Derry can’t help but dive into finding out what’s going on. Madam Tulip may be able to guide the direction she goes, but it’s Derry’s on cleverness that will carry the day.

In Madam Tulip, her father seems to actually believe that she had some psychic ability, otherwise it seems like a lark, something she does for giggles. But in book 2, it seemed possible that she might actually have some abilities, but there wasn’t much in the novel that was more than a hint or suggestion that she did. But here? That hint, that suggestion is gone — she sees things when she rolls the bones, her Tarot readings do say a lot that’s true (and future) about the person she’s reading the cards for. I think I liked it better when the reader wasn’t sure if she had gifts or not, honestly — but only a little bit.

I’ve been a fan of this series since chapter two or three of the first book, so you’re not getting anything really objective here (not that you ever do). But this is the best that Ahern’s done yet — there’s plenty of good comedic writing (there are lines I tried to shoehorn into this, but couldn’t, that made me laugh out loud), a mystery you can’t really guess the solution to, a little peril, a dash of romance and some fun characters. That’s not even counting Derry and Bruce. Bones of Chance is a strong entry in the series that will please fans, but it’s also a decent jumping on point for new readers. Basically anyone who enjoys light mysteries with a touch of something extra should have fun with this book.

There are times that I fear my enthusiasm towards a book doesn’t come through, and I usually don’t know how to achieve that better — this is one such time. I found myself grinning frequently while reading this — I chuckled, I even laughed out loud. I had a few theories about the trouble that Derry was getting herself into, and failed with almost all of them (a sign of a good mystery/thriller, if you ask me). If you’re not picking up my enthusiasm, that’s on me, just trust me that it’s there.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author in exchange for my honest opinion..


4 Stars

From the Mailbag: How Do I Read So Much?

I got a very pleasant comment/question/quemment a couple of days ago from a relatively new reader, Vitor. I’ll cut out the stuff that flatters me (not that I didn’t appreciate it), and stick with the heart of his email:

I’m not here just to talk about how much your writing has been pushing me to read more, but I want to know how can it be possible to read as much as you do, even with our daily routine…

Thanks for the quemment, Vitor — I’m going to try to reply more via email, but for now, I’ll write a bit here because I need content for today.

First off — don’t worry about numbers. Seriously. Yeah, I track them for this and that, but unless I get wrapped up in the ego-game (which happens a lot more than I like), it’s not a focus. Worry about the what you’re reading — is it what you want to be reading and is it giving you what you want?

Secondly, I’ve been a fast reader since I was a kid. That helps my numbers considerably. I’m not a speed reader, I tried some of that years ago, and go so wrapped up in the techniques that I never retained anything I “read.” Also most of the people who really get into that don’t seem to have a lot of fun reading, and what’s the point? (I’m not saying speed readers who get a lot of joy out of it don’t exist, just that I’ve never met one).

Can I interrupt here to recommend Alan Jacobs’ excellent book: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, which I blogged about here. I think if you get into Jacobs’ mindset (or a close equivalent), it’ll help a lot.

But to sort of actually answer your question, let me start with Nero Wolfe — one of the greatest characters created in the last century — reads a great deal, too. I tried to find the quotation describing his reading habits and couldn’t (which will bother me for a week or two), but essentially, he’s not a quick reader, but he reads steadily. That’s the key. As you read more, you’ll get better at it, and eventually, quicker.

Essentially, here’s how my typical weekday breaks down as far as reading: I get to work 30 minutes (or so) early, spend 20 minutes reading; I get two breaks plus lunch — that’s roughly another hour; and then I get another 30-60 minutes in after I get home (I try not to turn the laptop or social media on until I get some good reading done, and usually succeed.). Then if I have to take a kid somewhere, pick them up from something, etc. — there’s a few minutes to read. Basically, any time there’s a few minutes to kill, I grab my book — it’s better than Angry Birds or Facebook. This past weekend, for example, my daughter was in a school play — after we got in our seats, I had about 20 minutes of reading time, plus part of the intermission. So that’s 2-2.5 hours a day, during the week (plus some occasional bonus time). Sometimes on quiet Fridays I’ll get more done — or if I’m almost finished with a book, I’ll negotiate a few extra minutes with my wife before we start Jeopardy!.

Frequently (especially in December/January), in my Saturday Miscellany posts, I’ll post something along the lines of how to read more, here’s a couple of them that you might find helpful.

  • How to read more books in 2018
  • Ask a Literary Lady: I Need a Better New Year’s Resolution Than “Read More”

  • Anyway, the main reason I posted this response here rather than via email is so that commenters can chime in with handy tips, etc. So, please — help him. (Paul, I’m especially looking at you here).

    Nils Cuts His Nails – The Scissors Game by Nurit Zvolon, Rotem Lots-Zaiden

    Nils Cuts His Nails – The Scissors GameNils Cuts His Nails – The Scissors Game

    by Nurit Zvolon. Rotem Lots-Zaiden (Illustrator)
    Kindle Edition, 32 pg.
    Simple Story, 2018
    Read: March 10, 2018

    The success of this book — like almost all of them for the pre-reading set — comes down to the effort put into it by whoever is reading the book to the child. If someone gets into the rhyme, oohs and ahhs over the art just right, and has a lot of fun with it, I can’t imagine how a kid won’t either.

    Zvolon wrote this to help her granddaughters deal with the trauma of having their nails trimmed — which can be a struggle for some kids, I know. So Zvolon came up with a way to turn the experience into a game into something fantastical. She tells a very simple rhyming story about Nils overcoming his fear of getting his nails trimmed with the help of a game. It’s a neat idea told in an attractive fashion.

    The art is something else — if it doesn’t make you think fantasy, nothing will. Rotem Lots-Zaiden doesn’t illustrate this like any contemporary children’s book — it feels like something that came out of the 1970’s — maybe early Sesame Street animation. This is not a bad thing, I think it serves the story pretty well, and the strange features and interesting colors should keep the attention of young readers.

    I honestly never thought I’d read a book about trimming nails, or helping someone through the struggle of it. But now that I have, I can’t imagine a better one on the subject. This is good stuff, and I hope it helps some kids.

    Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinions as expressed above.


    3 Stars