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 Too often, her critiques are overgeneralized, inflammatory and outdated—while retaining a kernel worth chewing on.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

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Opening Lines—System Failure by Joe Zieja

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author—but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. I’m sure we can all relate to it.

Lucinda Hiri was pretty sure taking over the galaxy hadn’t been in the job description when she was offered this intern position six months ago. Then again, it wasn’t impossible. The Snaggardir corporation’s paperwork was notoriously long and detailed, vetted by droves of lawyers at every level of approval to make sure that the language had all the right loopholes in all the right places. Lucinda supposed that somewhere on page 356 there could have been a small asterisk that said “in the event a nascent people rise up after two hundred years of secret collusion, you will be required to take detailed notes at their strategy meetings.”

It had seemed like a dream come true at the time. Sal Snaggardir and his family’s company were arguably the most powerful economic force in the galaxy. The possibilities for her career as a businesswoman were endless. Not liking interning at some space technology company on Urp, where she would likely move laterally for the entirety of her disappointing, coffee-supported life. Snaggardir’s was the place to make it big.

In retrospect, though Lucinda should have noticed that Mr. Snaggardir was trying to conceal just how big his company had gotten. Subsidiary corporations literally thousands of banks all across the galaxy holding funds under different names, and that nondisclosure agreement she signed threatening to eradicate her family line if she ever told anyone anything about the company. The legal department said that was boilerplate, and, really, what did she know? She was just a thirty-year-old unpaid intern with three advanced degrees in business arts.

from System Failure by Joe Zieja

Saturday Miscellany—10/5/19

A brief one this week—but such is the joy of being miscellaneous, right? Here are the odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Mohit Malviya, jackiesreadingcorner, and Patrick Lynn for following the blog this week. Don’t be a stranger, and use that comment box, would you?

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.

WWW Wednesday, 2-October-2019

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! It’s been a while since I’ve done this, I figured it was time to dust this off.

This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived on Taking on a World of Words — and shown to me by Aurore-Anne-Chehoke at Diary-of-a-black-city-girl.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Easy enough, right?

What are you currently reading?

I’m a little over one-third done with the audiobook for Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie, narrated by Steven Pacey. I read this a few years ago, and have forgotten almost all of it (I remembered most of the first two volumes). I’m having a blast with it. I’m also about 80 pages away from finishing System Failure by Joe Zieja. This Sci-fi comedy trilogy is one of my favorites from the last few years, and it’s going out strong.

What did you recently finish reading?

Monday, I finished Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr and Ghosts of You by Cathy Ulrich. I’ll be posting about these both over the next couple of days.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m not sure what my next audiobook will be, I should probably figure that out before my commute tomorrow. My next book will probably be A Bloody Arrogant Power by Malcolm J Wardlaw, a near-future dystopia seems like a good follow-up to a comedic space opera.

Hit me with your Three W’s in the comments!

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.