Universal Monster Book Tag


Witty and Sarcastic Book Club tagged me in her little creation—a tag based on Universal’s Classic Movie Monsters. There’s a lot of recency bias in my pics, but oh well—I liked the list. I really need to do more things like this, it was fun.

While trying to come up with the last couple of entries for this, I took a Facebook break and read a couple of posts on a Nero Wolfe fan group, and realized I could fill my blanks from that Corpus. Then it occurred to me that I could do one of these with entries only from the Nero Wolfe series. Or, the Spenser series. Huh. (I’d have trouble with some other series depending how you define “sequel” below). Watch me control the impulse.

bullet Dracula: a book with a charismatic villain
The Silence of the Lambs
My Pick: Gotta go with Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, every other charismatic villain I can think of pales in comparison.
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: (yeah, so much for restraint—this was a fun additional challenge) Paul Chapin in The League of Frightened Men (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: The Gray Man in Small Vices

bullet The Invisible Man: A book that has more going on than meets the eye
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity
My Pick: The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Even in the Best Families
Bonus Spenser Pick: Early Autumn

bullet Wolf-Man: A complicated character
Needle Song
My Pick: Doc Slidesmith in Needle Song (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Can I just use Nero Wolfe? Eh, Orrie Cather in A Family Affair
Bonus Spenser Pick: Patricia Utley in Mortal Stakes

bullet Frankenstein: A book with a misunderstood character
The Unkindest Tide
My Pick: The Luidaeg in The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Over My Dead Body (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: Hawk, A Promised Land

bullet The Bride of Frankenstein: A sequel you enjoyed more than the first book
Stoned Love
My Pick: Stoned Love by Ian Patrick (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: The League of Frightened Men (yeah, that’s the second time this shows up, but it’s the sequel…) (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: God Bless the Child

bullet Creature from the Black Lagoon: An incredibly unique book
A Star-Reckoner's Lot

(there’s a better cover now, but this is the first)

My Pick: A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: Some Buried Ceasar (my post about the book)
Bonus Spenser Pick: A Savage Place

bullet The Mummy: A book that wraps up nicely (see what I did there?)
Every Heart a Doorway
My Pick: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (my post about the book)
Bonus Nero Wolfe Pick: This applies to almost every one of them, I’m going to go with The Doorbell Rang
Bonus Spenser Pick: The Judas Goat

I’m not going to tag anyone, but I’d encourage any reader to give it a shot. I’d like to see your lists.

Also, I’ve been thinking for awhile I needed to do a re-read of the Spenser series. This post has convinced me I really need to get on that.

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Ghosts of You by Cathy Ulrich: The thing about murder victims is . . .

Ghosts of You

Ghosts of You

by Cathy Ulrich

eARC, 150 pg.
Okay Donkey Press, 2019

Read: September 23-30, 2019


This collection of 31 pieces of flash fiction shouldn’t work. This is probably not the sentence that the author and her publicist want me to start with, but hear me out. It shouldn’t, but it does.

Why shouldn’t it work? For starters, each story has essentially the same title. “Being the Murdered _____.” Earle Stanley Gardner got away with it, as did Lilian Jackson Braun—but I can’t see how anyone else does. Add Ulrich to the list.

Secondly, each story starts with the same sentence:

The thing about being the murdered [word/phrase from title] is you set the plot in motion.

Outside of “Once Upon a Time,” that should not be done (it’s arguable that it shouldn’t be done there, either). But it does work.

From these nearly identical launching pads, Ulrich spins 31 incredibly distinctive tales about what happens after various women are murdered. I should probably clarify a bit, about what I mean about the various women (and the blanks above). These stories focus on people like the murdered Girl, Wife, Lover, Homecoming Queen, Babysitter, Mother, Extra, Jogger—mostly the kinds of women you read about/see in the beginning of a murder mystery. Ulrich also goes for some unexpected types, e.g.: Politician, Mermaid, Muse, Chanteuse (she probably deserves extra points for using that word in the Twenty-First Century), and Taxidermist.

Their murders change the lives of those around them, those who knew them, knew of them, investigated their deaths both immediately and for years to come.

Now, as the word “plot” in the topic sentences indicates, these are primarily reactions to/depictions of/commentaries on the way that the homicides of fictional women are portrayed in Crime Fiction (or even “Literary” Fiction), TV, Movies, etc. I think it has a lot to say about those depictions, but I think there are a lot of weaknesses to Ulrich’s approach, too. Too often, her critiques are overgeneralized, inflammatory and outdated—while retaining a kernel worth chewing on.

Thankfully, the book is about more than that (or I’m not sure I’d have bothered to finish it). I frequently felt like my reaction to the stories was not what it was intended to be. When she’s telling a story (as abbreviated as they are), describing human reactions to situations that “tragic” doesn’t quite begin to apply to—these pieces shine. For someone who shuns self-help books, I’ve read a lot about grief in the last couple of years—these stories contain some of the best portrayals of it in all its varied expressions—that I can remember. If your heart doesn’t break a little at least twice while going through this collection, you need to go listen to some community singing in Whoville, so they can help yours grow.

Beyond that, there’s the obvious strength of the economy of words here—these stories are lean, without a wasted word, and are pound-for-pound some of the most effective stories I’ve read this year.

As with any collection, there are stronger pieces and weaker pieces—some that will satisfy some and other readers will be stupefied by or indifferent to the same ones. I do think there’s a better hit to miss ratio in this collection than I’m used to. For what it’s worth, “Being the Murdered Bride”, “Being the Murdered Student” and “Being the Murdered Mama” were the high-points for me.

While these are all very different (Ulrich almost never plays the same note twice), I don’t recommend reading too many in one sitting (I limited myself to three at a time, for example)—beyond that, you risk robbing them of their impact.

I heartily recommend this collection that works far better than it should. It’ll cause you to stop and think, stop and feel, and hopefully change your perspective on a few things.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author via Lori @ TNBBC Publicity in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this.


4 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr: Timely and Compelling

Justice Gone

Justice Gone

by N. Lombardi Jr

Kindle Edition, 336 pg.
Roundfire Books, 2019

Read: September 27-30, 2019


I’ve mentioned before here that after I decide to read a book I forget what its about (if I even know) to keep myself coming from being disappointed by preconceived notions. It worked this time, I really had no idea what it was about when I opened it on my Kindle last week.

Which made the opening pages, featuring the killing of an innocent and compliant veteran by the police, as shocking as they could’ve been. But they also led me to believe I was in for a grim, adult version of The Hate U Give. So when that story took a hard turn a few chapters later with the murder of some of those police officers, I was reeling as much as Lombardi could’ve hoped for.

That sensation kept repeating at each new phase of the action in Justice Gone—”Oh, so this is what the book is about.” Until I finally got that the book was about all of these things—not just one or two themes. It was actually pretty effective in that way, more than I might have thought possible in the abstract. It’s difficult to enumerate them without revealing too much, so I’ll be vague here—the central question is about the place of (and possibility of) seeing justice in our current politicized climate given the high level of suspicion of the police (and their suspicion of the general public) coloring everything, and apparent interference by government officials (especially those elected to office) on criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Sadly, in the mix of all those themes and ideas, the incident that set all of the rest in motion is forgotten about when not overshadowed by the events that spiraled from it. I wish Lombardi had been able to keep the focus on it while telling the other story, because that really is something tat needs to be told. Not that the rest doesn’t, don’t misunderstand. It’s just we’ve all seen several variations of the rest of the novel, and haven’t seen nearly enough of that.

One thing I really appreciated was the focus on the jury’s deliberation toward the end of the novel. Lombardi’s not afraid to introduce new characters—twelve of them, in fact—as the book wraps up. Occasionally, a legal thriller will take a peak inside the Jury Room, but never to this extent. Now I wonder why not.

Lombardi does slip into melodrama more than a few times. He gets out of it pretty quickly and easily, but it’s there. His characters could all use a little more work to not be so forced, and be a little more believable—except for the accused, I never had a problem with him. But Lombardi’s a good enough story teller that the problems with the writing and characters are swept under the carpet and ignored as long as you can focus on the story unfolding.

It’s a book that feels timely and important—the kind of thing that will spark reflection on the part of the reader, and hopefully discussion. Justice Gone is the kind of compelling novel we need more of.


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr

Today I welcome the Book Tour for the timely and compelling Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel. But before I get to talking about the book, let’s start by learning a little about this here book, okay?


Book Details:

Book Title: Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr
Release date: February 22, 2019
Publisher: Roundfire Books
Format: Paperback/Ebook
Length: 336 pages

Book Blurb:

WINNER OF THREE AWARDS
2019 AMERICAN FICTION AWARD
NATIONAL INDIE EXCELLENCY AWARD – Best Legal Thriller OF 2019
SILVER MEDAL WINNER 2019 READERS’ FAVORITES AWARDS
Chosen by Wiki.ezvid.com among their list of 10 Gripping and Intelligent Legal Thrillers

The courtroom scenes are wonderfully written…the characters are well described and the author paints a picture of each in the mind of the reader…Strong plot, strong characters and a strong writing style that I really enjoyed. This one is a definite “thumbs-up.” Strongly recommend! I look forward to reading additional works by N. Lombardi, Jr.
Kim M Aalaie, Author’s Den

One of my favorite suspense novels of the year. It will make you question the legal system.
The Eclectic Review

The courtroom action is excellent, trimmed to the most gripping parts of the trial, with plenty of emotional impact…a fairly realistic portrayal of the way small-town US society works…a fast-moving story with plenty of dramatic moments, and a big twist in the final pages.
Crime Review

“When a homeless war veteran is beaten to death by the police, stormy protests ensue, engulfing a small New Jersey town. Soon after, three cops are gunned down.

A multi-state manhunt is underway for a cop killer on the loose. And Dr. Tessa Thorpe, a veteran’s counselor, is caught up in the chase.

Donald Darfield, an African-American Iraqi war vet, war-time buddy of the beaten man, and one of Tessa’s patients, is holed up in a mountain cabin. Tessa, acting on instinct, sets off to find him, but the swarm of law enforcement officers gets there first, leading to Darfield’s dramatic capture.

Now, the only people separating him from the lethal needle of state justice are Tessa and aging blind lawyer, Nathaniel Bodine. Can they untangle the web tightening around Darfield in time, when the press and the justice system are baying for revenge?”

About N. Lombardi Jr:

N. Lombardi JrLombardi Jr, the N for Nicholas, has spent over half his life in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, working as a groundwater geologist. Nick can speak five languages: Swahili, Thai, Lao, Chinese, and Khmer (Cambodian).

In 1997, while visiting Lao People’s Democratic Republic, he witnessed the remnants of a secret war that had been waged for nine years, among which were children wounded from leftover cluster bombs. Driven by what he saw, he worked on The Plain of Jars for the next eight years.

Nick maintains a website with content that spans most aspects of the novel: The Secret War, Laotian culture, Buddhism etc. http://plainofjars.net

His second novel, Journey Towards a Falling Sun, is set in the wild frontier of northern Kenya.

His latest novel, Justice Gone was inspired by the fatal beating of a homeless man by police.

Nick now lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Visit his goodreads page:
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6982373.N_Lombardi_Jr_

Social Networks:

Facebook ~ Website ~ Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Waterstones ~ Kobo


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

Cradle to Grave by Rachel Amphlett: A Twisty, Quick Paced Hunt for a Murderer/Kidnapper to Rescue a Child


Cradle to Grave

Cradle to Grave

by Rachel Amphlett
Series: Det. Kay Hunter, #8

Kindle Edition, 370 pg.
Saxon Publishing, 2019

Read: September 26-27, 2019


This was my first time reading Rachel Amphlett and I wasn’t sure what to expect—I’ll cut to the chase now, I really enjoyed it, and Amphlett impressed me from the first chapter on.

The first chapter features some good character moments and a well-drawn figure for characters whose sole purpose is to find a dead body and get the police involved. A lot of authors wouldn’t have bothered with making these characters so fleshed-out. Many wouldn’t have bothered with showing the discovery of the dead body. I liked this touch.

When the police arrive and look at the dead body, almost impossible to identify, it looks like this could be a long investigation. But one of the instigators notices all the children’s belongings in the vicinity and quickly realizes that a child should be at the scene. They have to make a quick decision, do they treat it as a homicide, or a kidnapping. They (wisely) decide to treat it as a kidnapping (while searching for signs of the former). Not only are they hunting for a murderer, they’re probably trying to prevent any harm coming to the child.

Not that they’d be taking their time with a murder inquiry, but missing child adds n element of intensity and immediacy to their search for the killer. Which makes the whole novel more tense and fast-paced. As introductions to a series/author go, this was pretty intense.

One thing I appreciate about UK procedurals (in distinction from the US-based) is the trust for the method and procedure. With US procedurals, there’s an urgency to an investigation—a strong sense that the longer the investigation takes, the less likely it is that they’ll arrest anyone. It feels (at least to me) the opposite with good UK procedurals. There’s a trust in the system, that the gears of police work will eventually establish the guilt of someone as long as the gears keep turning. It’s almost like they longer things go on, the more certain they are that they’ll catch the responsible party. That’s certainly the case here, yet, it’s well-balanced with the scramble to save the child.

Another thing about UK procedurals is the way the whole team is involved in the investigation—it’s not (for example) Det. Bosch, and maybe his partner, barreling through things, with the occasional assist from someone else in the office or a forensic specialist. There are all sorts of officers, of all ranks and assignments running around, making contributions to the overall effort. It’s probably a whole lot more realistic, a whole lot more believable—but it comes at a cost. There are so many people running around, that it’s hard to keep track of them all, hard to get to the point where you can get a feel for most of the characters—and it’s likely that you’ll confuse a couple with each other. This isn’t a criticism of Amphlett, I’ve had the same problem when it comes to other UK procedurals that I’ve read. Maybe it’s just me. It just takes a few novels before I can get a feel for anyone beyond the character the series is named after. That’s definitely the case here. I have a decent sense for Kay Hunter, and the beginnings of a sense for one or two others on the team, but that’s all. Ask me again when book 10 comes around (or if I get to some of the backlist), and that’ll disappear.

I did like the characters, and think I could grow to be fans of a few of them—but that’ll take time (and the ability to differentiate them easily). I could tell they weren’t just interchangeable names, that there were individual characteristics and drives behind them. And none of them served as Detective Exposition or Detective Comic Relief—which is a big plus to me.

Now, when it comes to the witnesses, family of the victims, and suspects? I thought Amphlett did a good job with them all—colorful in the right ways, believable, and did a good job of moving the plot forward (also, police interactions and reaction to the witnesses were handled very nicely).

One thing I truly appreciated about this is just how wrong the police frequently were—and not in little ways, either. Justifiably wrong given the information they had, I should stress. But as soon as they realized they were heading down the wrong path, they quickly fixed it. They didn’t spend a few dozen pages in self-recrimination, they didn’t get a time-consuming talking to from their superior, or anything like that (although that might be forthcoming…). Instead, they regrouped, shook off the error and acted on the correct information right away. Sure, most procedurals (mystery novels in general) feature some wrong theories, some half-baked notions that have to be discarded. But this seemed to have a larger than usual—and more believable—quantity and quality of errors. But they dealt with them appropriately. I wish I saw more like that.

Was this a perfect book? No, in fact, I was annoyed more than once or twice with either the writing or the plot. But they were all minor annoyances, and nothing worth listing and nothing really took me out of the moment while I read. Better yet, the strengths quickly canceled out the problems/doubts I had. This was a quick, compelling read that did all the right things for a procedural. Entertaining, twisty, and engaging. This won’t be my last Amphlett.


3.5 Stars

My thanks to Tracy Fenton for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Cradle to Grave by Rachel Amphlett (plus a Giveaway)

Today I welcome the Book Tour for the twisty Cradle to Grave by Rachel Amphlett. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit. But before I get to talking about the book, let’s start by learning a little about this here book, okay? Be sure you scroll down to the bottom of this post for details on the Giveaway!


Book Details:

Book Title: Cradle to Grave by Rachel Amphlett
Release date: October 6, 2019
Format: Ebook/Paperback
Length: 370 pages

Book Blurb:

When a faceless body is found floating in the river on a summer’s morning, Detective Kay Hunter and her team are tasked with finding out the man’s identity – and where he came from.

The investigation takes a sinister turn when an abandoned boat is found, covered in blood stains and containing a child’s belongings.

Under mounting pressure from a distraught family and an unforgiving media, the police are in a race against time – but they have no leads, and no motive for the events that have taken place.

Will Kay be able to find a ruthless killer and a missing child before it’s too late?

Cradle to Grave is the eighth book in the Detective Kay Hunter series by USA Today bestselling author Rachel Amphlett, and perfect for fans of Ann Cleeves, Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin.

About Rachel Amphlett:

Rachel AmphlettBefore turning to writing, USA Today bestselling author Rachel Amphlett played guitar in bands, worked as a TV and film extra, and dabbled in radio as a presenter and freelance producer for the BBC. She now wields a pen instead of a plectrum and writes crime fiction and spy novels, including the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the Detective Kay Hunter series.

The Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold have been sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint, and the first four books in the Dan Taylor espionage series are published by Germany’s Luzifer Verlag.

Her novels are available in eBook, print, large print and audiobook formats from libraries and worldwide retailers.

A keen traveller, Rachel holds both EU and Australian passports and can usually be found plotting her next trip two years in advance.

Rachel Amphlett’s Social Media:

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website ~ Instagram

GIVEAWAY:

Rachel Amphlett will be giving away 2 paperback copies of this book! To enter, simply comment below or retweet my tweet about this Book Spotlight. Open Worldwide.

My thanks to Tracy Fenton for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) provided.

Pub Day Repost: Dachshund Through the Snow by David Rosenfelt: Andy Carpenter gets a Cold Case for Christmas

Dachshund Through the Snow

Dachshund Through the Snow

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #20

eARC, 352 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2019

Read: September 3, 2019


It felt a little weird for the second book I read in September to be a Christmas-centered novel. Sure, it’s an Advanced Reader Copy, but still, it feels ridiculous. However, one thing we learn right off the bat is that Andy’s wife, Laurie, wants to extend the Christmas season into February (I’m sure there’s a touch of hyperbole there)—so I can totally see her not blinking at a Christmas book right after Labor Day.

There’s another case that kicks the book off—Andy sues the Paterson Police Department on behalf of a canine officer whose handler is retiring and wants to bring the dog with him into early retirement due to hip problems. It’s a pleasant way to kick off the book, and Rosenfelt makes it pay off for events later in the book and into the future, too.

But the main event is tied into Laurie’s Christmas spirit. She goes to various local places (like a pet store) and takes the wish lists/letters to Santa left there and fulfills them. This year she gets a letter from a little boy who wants a coat for his mom and a sweater for his dachshund, but before you can say “Awww, how cute,” he also asks for Santa to find his dad and bring him home. A job for Laurie, the P.I., not Santa.

Before Laurie can find him, however, the Paterson police do—he’s arrested for a fourteen-year-old murder. Noah Traynor’s sister had done one of those 23andMe/Ancestry-type things and the police tied her DNA to blood left underneath the fingernails of an unsolved murder (this is such a good idea, and I hope other writers use a similar idea just to prompt discussion about these things). Now we’re talking a job that’s not for Santa or Laurie, it’s Andy’s turn.

By this point, we all know what comes next: Sam hacks into things he should and finds out a lot; Marcus mumbles, intimidates some criminals and does something violent; Laurie cajoles and supports Andy; Hike predicts calamity; Andy watches some sports and thinks while walking Tara and Sebastian; (and works a little). The trial arrives and Andy annoys the judge and prosecutor, amuses the reader and finally gets somewhere with his investigation. Just because we all know it’s coming, that doesn’t mean it’s any less entertaining—in fact, there’s the fun in finding out how Rosenfelt will juggle the standard options; e.g. “what superhuman thing will Marcus do this time?”, “will Sam get to go into the field?”, “how many potential witnesses will Andy alienate before the trial? There’s also a lot that happens this time that the reader isn’t used to seeing during trial prep or the trial itself.

During the trial, something so shocking happened that Andy swore when he learned about it—which didn’t scandalize me, I just don’t remember him doing it that often. I was just as shocked as he was and almost followed suit. I know Rosenfelt has tricked me and caught me off guard before, but I don’t remember anything like this one. At twenty books in, for him to leave me nigh-flabbergasted is an accomplishment. Early on, I’d come up with a theory for both the identity of the killer and the motive—and Rosenfelt had convinced me I was on the wrong track. But it turns out that the events that left me as gobsmacked as our favorite indolent defense lawyer paved the way for me to be proven right. I’m not bringing this up to talk about how clever I was but to say that Rosenfelt was so convincing that he talked me out of being right on both fronts. Few mystery writers succeed there, and that never fails to make me happy to read it.

The book also works as a launching point for the spin-off series expected next year, focusing on Laurie’s new Detective Agency. I’ve been looking forward to it since I saw it announced, but now I’m a bit more interested having a bit more information. But more on that in a few months.

I went without sleep—2 days before seeing my sleep specialist, who saw the data, I should add—to stay up and finish this. It was totally worth the scathing look she gave me because I just had to know how it ended. After a book or two that made me wonder if Rosenfelt was running out of steam, the last few of these books have restored all my faith in him—Dachshund Through the Snow is one of the best in the series. A couple of authentic laughs, a lot of smiles, some warm fuzzies. a very clever mystery, and some good quality time with old friends—it’s a genuinely good time.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post and my honest opinion—thanks to both for this early Christmas gift (so to speak), but the opinions expressed were not influenced by that, only by the fun read.


4 1/2 Stars