Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Latest Kickstarter - A Sherlockian/Lovecraftian Mashup

 Sherlock & Friends: Eldritch Investigations

Up on Kickstarter, a new campaign for fans of mystery with a bit of cosmic horror! This is an anthology of 9 adventures featuring Holmes’s friends & rivals as they pit their detection skills against Lovecraftian horrors. The campaign ends May 2, 2024, so check it out here.

Every backer at $6 or more will receive an electronic copy of the anthology, Sherlock & Friends: Eldritch Investigations (EPUB & PDF) which features 9 adventures (over 80,000 words). These tales 'channel the spirits' of Victorian and Edwardian age detectives that graced the dime novels and pulp magazines of this golden era. Reward tiers for paperbacks and hardcovers available as well! 

Here's the cover reveal! Slick, eh? The stories are excellent as well. All edited and ready to go! 

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Book Review Thursday - The Dressmaker's Gift

My Review of: The Dressmaker's Gift by Fiona Valpy

A few months back, I organized a Book Club at our condo community. I thought it would be a good way to meet new people here in Puerto Rico. First two meetings, there were only two of us! But we persisted and had five last month to discuss John Grisham's legal thriller, The Judge's List. Most people liked it, I thought it was meh (check out my review). Our next meeting is next Saturday and we'll be talking about The Dressmaker's Gift (affiliate link to Amazon).

I liked this novel fairly well, but with some caveats. To start, it was a narrative- and reflection-heavy story (a lot of tell, not show). And it was slow. I know this isn't supposed to be a thriller, but the bulk of the story is set in occupied Paris during WW2. I thought there'd be a lot more tension.

Then, there's the structure of the novel. It's a modern trend, I guess, but the time jumps! Please. Can't we just have a regular historical novel set in the past? There are three main plot threads. The first is about Harriet (the modern day character from 2017). She's piecing together the story of her grandmother Claire who was a seamstress in 1940s Paris. The flashback chapters involve three friends - Claire, Vivienne, and Mirieille - and their roles in the French resistance.

Another "meh" for me was the modern day premise. I guess you need a rationale to start a story, but the set up was a bit too convenient - Harriet goes to Paris in 2017 on a kind of inner journey of discovery and ends up working in the same dress shop as her grandmother Claire and meeting Mirielle's granddaughter (Simone) in the same couture shop. They board in the same upstairs bedrooms as their grandmothers.

Okay. All well and good. So how do we flashback? Harriet wants to find out about Claire, and Simone writes her grandmother Mirielle (who's still alive at 100!) for details. The backstory is slowly revealed. Fortunately, this is told in good old-fashioned third person past (not via letters, thank goodness). It involves the other two plots - sometimes it's about Mirielle, sometimes it's about Claire. I'd have preferred one POV, but heh.

But even this portion of the novel was slow until about 60% when the tension mounted. I just was not interested in the modern day character's angst and commentary. I think you could skip the Harriet passages altogether and still enjoy the novel. But evidently this is the trend today. Plus, Harriet (and the author herself, from what she said in the afterword) got stuck on the idea of inherited trauma (as a motivating driver behind the MC's search for meaning) which I thought distracted from the story.

I'd recently read another flashback/three-character plotted WW2 novel called Across the Winding River by Aimie K. Runyan which I really enjoyed (4.5 stars) despite its structure, so I'm probably comparing the two books. This one gets 2.5 stars. The narrative time jump device got a bit tiresome and, while the writing was good enough, The Dressmaker's Gift just wasn't that compelling for me. Your mileage may vary - it has over 90,000 ratings (!) and 61% are 5 stars.

Question: Do you enjoy historical novels? And are you into this modern trend of a contemporary chracter discovering some post card or photograph about the past and launching into a journey of discovery?


This is Book #20 in my race to read/review 52 books this year.
Click here for a list of all my 52 Week Challenge reviews.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Book Review Thursday - Two Ray Irish Mysteries

My Review of: Ray Irish Mystery Case Files #1 & #2 by Gordon Brewer

I think I found these two short pulp/noir detective mysteries via a freebie newsletter dealybob and went to the author's website to download a few samples. The writer is Gordon Brewer, and he had these two Ray Irish Case Files available for visitors. (Plus a short two-volume sword and sorcery e-book called Clovel Sword Saga which I've read and liked but have yet to review.)

The first Ray Irish mystery is titled Death Stalks the Runway and was quite intriguing and enjoyable. It starts out strong with a vicious crime, and the shamus (or private eye) is off and running, tracking down suspects as the tension mounts and the acts of violence increase. This story features a model and a suspicious agent - along with some gangsters and other nefarious players. The women the agent represents are living in fear, but a courageous 'dame' wants justice and Ray Irish is happy to seek it despite the danger to himself and his colleagues.

If you enjoy hard-boiled pulpy noir set in the 1940s, I think you'll like this first one. It's gritty and raw but well written and full of interesting characters. It's a short novella or a long novelet (about 65 pages), and is just the right length for this kind of adventure. I give it 4.5 stars.

The second Ray Irish mystery (Reaper Walks the Garden) is not as good as the first. Whereas Case File #1 bolts right out of the gate - with danger and fast pulpy action - Case File #2 opens with a grisly murder followed by lots and lots of talking. Lots and lots. The hard-boiled detective action didn't really start until a third of the way through. And for something this length (overlong at 95 pages), that's too far into the story for me to stay interested. So I skimmed to the end where everything was explained.

Basically, our shamus Mr. Irish tries to figure out who killed a dysfunctional woman in a dysfunctional family. Everyone's a suspect. But none of the characters grabbed me and they were all unlikable. Also, quite vulgar and violent. Like I said, it just didn't match the intrigue and engaging style of the first novelet. Not as strongly written, plus more than few typos which distracted me every now and then. Only 2.5 stars for this follow up mystery. But do grab the first one here.


This is Book #17 in my race to read/review 52 books this year.
Click here for a list of all my 52 Week Challenge reviews.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Book Review Thursday - The Troubleshooters

The Troubleshooters 

by William W. Johnstone (Guns of the Vigilantes #2)

I’ll say 3.5 stars. It was a good yarn, but a bit long and rambling. I got half way done and it kinda felt over (though the money stolen from the bank hadn’t been recovered), then a whole new cast of characters was introduced and off we went on another wild chase for the bad guys. Felt like two short novels put into one sprawling tale. Not bad writing or storytelling, actually, just some odd and surprising plot developments. 

The story started out pretty promising with Frank James (Jesse’s older brother) joining a posse in a small Texas town after the bank’s been robbed. He quotes Shakespeare and has evidently reformed his ways. An interesting character. Other supporting characters aren’t badly drawn either. The leader is deputy sheriff Dan Caine and the men set out but then immediately get ambushed. They regroup and try again, and this is where the plot starts to go off the rails.

(Spoilers next - although part of this is mentioned on the back blurb.) 

One of the posse members is an Italian priest who is on the search for a lycanthrope in order to bring him back to the Vatican along with a wayward sapphic nun who has founded an order of She Wolves that terrorize the prairie. This isn’t a ‘weird western’ (in the current meaning of that genre, that is, featuring actual werewolves and vampires and such), but it is fairly odd in that the characters are considering that there are such beasts roaming the world. Kinda crazy.

So what basically happens is that the story shifts from chasing the bank robbers to getting the money back from the leader of the She Wolves - whose pack of wild women had come across the robbers and killed them all, stealing the money. Definitely a surprising twist to a standard western posse vs bad guys trope. Later the Apaches enter in, there’s a massacre, and then we’re off to Ft. Worth for the final showdown.

A pretty wild ride overall, and if you’re really into westerns with a slightly skewed plot, this might be for you. Oh, and every now and then the author inserted an omniscient narrator voice who spoke from the future about the events as history ‘recorded’ them. Curious and interesting at times, but not your typical third person past approach.

Of course, William W. Johnstone didn’t write this novel (he’s been dead for some years), but I suspect his estate has a slew of house writers they use. Nothing wrong with that, but the storytelling style will change from book to book and series to series. Evidently, this is the second book in a vigilante series although I wouldn’t classify it as vigilante justice per se. Still, I enjoyed the novel enough to finish it. And whenever I need another quick and easy Johnstone western, I might try book number one.


This is Book #14 in my race to read/review 52 books this year.
Click here for a list of all my 52 Week Challenge reviews.

Saturday, April 08, 2023

Sunday Reading Roundup #12

Welcome back! In this edition...

  • Today's Book Beview
  • Currently Reading
  • On My TBR List
  • Stacking the Shelves
  • 52 Week Challenge Update
  • Happening In Real Life
  • Weekend Blog Hops

Book Review: The Judge's List by John Grisham

When I read, I usually post updates on my progress on Goodreads. Here's what I wrote after passing the point of no return. (That is, when I either give up on a novel that is a bit sluggish or decide to power through. That's anywhere from 20 to 40 percent.)

"About 40% into the novel and they're finally starting the investigation. Kind of repetitive so far, explaining the plot 3 or 4 times that there's a serial killer judge on the loose. I have to admit I'm a bit bored even though I like Grisham's style of writing. Hope there's a twist coming."

Here's my 60% update: "Good writing as per Grisham but not much tension. The stakes were set from the beginning and now we're just trudging along until the end, it seems."

And my final impression: 

Prose is certainly Grisham-esque and typically entertaining, at times...though having read almost all of his novels, I've grown slightly weary of his snarky clip.

The central plotline, however - that there's a serial killer judge on the loose and here are his suspected victims - was repeated so often as to become monotonous. We reviewed the cases at least four times. So hardly any tension or suspense; no real build up. And disappointingly, no twist or surprise revelation was to be had. The novel was one long denouement - the climax found in the blurb itself.

And at about 350 pages, it was just too long. Maybe this one would have made a good novella because I like the set-up and premise. It just didn't have the energy of previous Grisham novels. 

If you are a super fan of his like me, then you'll eventually get to it, but if you want to experience the author at his best, maybe try those earlier books from the '90s like The Firm, The Client, and The Pelican Brief.

I'd give this one 3 stars based on feels though it wasn't a bad book. It's a kind of sequel to The Whistler which I gave 3.5 stars to. My review of that first one, which has more courtroom drama than this followup, is on Goodreads here. BTW, Grisham also wrote a prequel short story to The Whistler called Witness to a Trial which I liked very much. Very short review is here.

Amazon affiliate link to The Judge's List by John Grisham (2021).

Currently Reading
+ XLZABK001 by Jon Zaremba (fantasy and sword & sorcery collection)
+ Laws and Prophecies (Sword's Edge Book 3) by L.S. King (sword and planet)
+ The Troubleshooters by William W. Johnstone (western vigilenta justice)
+ Razored Land: Blackest of Hates by Charles Allen Gramlich (dystopia) 

On My TBR List 
+ Boy Battles Bot (Space Invaders #1) by A.K. Meek (MG sci-fi adventure) 
+ Skallagrim: In the Vales Of Pagarna by Stephen R. Babb (sword/sorcery) 
+ The Song of Sangr by Gustavo Bondoni (sword/sorcery)

Stacking the Shelves

Normally, I don't keep track of the books I obtain (collect on my Kindle is more like it! lol). But I see other readers cop to their obsession, so I looked back on my recent acquisitions and am so embarrased! Quite a few additions since March 1st that I probably won't get to for some time, I'm sure!

  • Where They Lie by Joe Hart - thriller (my Prime book of the month pick for April)
  • Tower of Light by Darin Calhoun - sword/sorcery (Ashonn the Slayer Book 2)
  • Concho: The Complete Series by A.W. Hart (all 6 cont. westerns for 99 cents!)
  • Dragon Sim-13 by Bob Mayer - special ops (Green Berets/Dave Riley Book #2)
  • Penance on the Prairies by R.L. Syme - cozy mystery (found it free someplace)
  • Death in the English Countryside by Sara Rosett - mystery (free from the author)
  • XLZABK001 by Jon Zaremba - fantasy/sword & sorcery (from author to review)
  • Savage Tribes of Venus by Rex Mundy - old school adventure (Gavin Chappell, ed.)
  • All He Has Left by Chad Zunker - police prodedural (Amazon Prime pick for March)

That's 9 books last month! Actually, 14! Yikes. (But only 3 in Febuary, so do you forgive me? ha!) Anyway, looks like I have some reading to do. Fortunately, I'm in the midst of a 52 week challenge...

My 52 Week Challenge: Read and Review 52 Books in 2023 (Week 14)
(Books listed in reading order, not review order. And I'm behind, lol.)

1. Razored Land by Charles Gramlich - post-apocalypse (review TBD)
2. The Stroke of Winter by Wendy Webb - mystery (reviewed Jan 11)
3. Feast of Fools and Other Tales - S&S anthology (reviewed Jan 19)
4. Clovel Sword Saga (Vol 1&2) by Gordon Brewer - S&S (review TBD)
5. The Hike by Susi Holliday - mystery/thriller (reviewed March 7)
6. Valengetrix: Ghost of Aratania by J.R. Cason - sword & sorcery (reviewed Feb 25)
7. Swords & Heroes - Sword & Sorcery Anthology (edited by me! review TBD)
8. The Viking Gael Saga by J.T.T. Ryder - historical fiction (reviewed March 15)
9. Blackfoot Dawn by John Legg - a mountain man western (reviewed March 10)
10. Across the Winding River by Aimie K. Runyan - historical drama (reviewed April 1)
11. The Judge's List by John Grisham - legal thriller (reviewed above)

Happening in Real Life

+ Went to a Coffee and Chocolate Expo at the San Juan Convention Center a few weeks back. Very yummy, but very crowded. My wife Julie blogs about it at our Boom Travel website.

Ready for some cafe y chocolate!

+ Attended a more liturgical church for Palm Sunday last week. It was good, but a bit far to drive each week and we want to get involved and serve our local community. So we'll likely stick with the one we're attending now which is closer to our home. And whenever I feel the liturgical itch, we'll head to San Juan and maybe make a day trip of it like we did this past Sunday when we took a short ferry ride from Cataño to Viejo San Juan for only 50 cents each one way! If you visit PR, you should try it!

+ No progress on our washer and dryer. Still heading to the laundromat each Tuesday. Sigh. The other bad news is that a portion of our ceiling crashed down our upper stairwell. We have a rooftop patio and it's flat, of course, but there's drainage - the problem is it leaks and does damage inside. What a mess. We assume insurance will take care of the damages, but that whole process is long, I'm sure.

Plaster broke off from the ceiling and crashed down the spiral stairwell a few days ago.

+ Finally, we've planned the week's adventures for when our two daughters and their husbands visit the first week in May. We're going ziplining, midnight kayaking (at a biobay), hiking in a rainforest, waterfall swimming, beaching it a few times, taking the ferry again to Old San Juan, and catching a cocao farm tour. Whew! We may run those youngsters ragged while they're here! Should be fun though.

Well, that's about it. Happy Easter - Blessed Resurrection Day! 


Weekend Blog Hops
Sunday Post from Caffeinated Reviewer
Sunday Salon from Readerbuzz
Stacking the Shelves from Reading Reality
It's Monday, What Are You Reading? from The Book Date

Drop a comment and a link to your blog and tell me what you're reading! Have a great weekend.

(BTW, this is Sunday Roundup #12)

Saturday, April 01, 2023

My Review of Across the Winding River by Aimie K. Runyan

by Aimie K. Runyan
(Aug, 2020, about 300 pages, over 13,000 ratings)

I enjoyed this historical novel set for the most part in Germany during WW2. It starts out, however, in Southern California, 2007, when Max, now in a nursing home with failing health, begins sharing with his daughter Beth a bit of his heretofore unknown past. She brings him a box of his memorabilia and asks him about a war picture of him as a medic holding a beautiful, young woman who is obviously pregnant. This would not be her mother, of course, as Beth's parents met after Max got home from Europe.

It's a good premise and teaser. The author then takes us back in time to two other storylines that eventually come together - Max's days as a medic on the front lines in France, and a woman named Johanna, who is a pilot and engineer working in the Luftwaffe developing war planes for Nazi Germany. She is a reluctant participant in the war and her family story, with their uncertainties and reservations, is well told.

How Johanna's and Max's stories come together is part of the developing plot, so no spoilers here. Jewish ancestry plays a role, so there's a hint. Suffice it to say that the author did a good job interweaving these three stories (one modern and two historical) into an effective and interesting narrative. Once you get used to the time jumps and point-of-view changes, it's easy and enjoyable reading. In addition, the historical elements were well placed and referenced.

Now, for action lovers, this book begins without much fanfare - no 'in medias res' thrills and suspense here. But the slow and gentle pacing served the rest of the novel well. This is a drama slash love story, but not necessarily of the heart-thumping kind; the telling here is not rushed. Overall, a good technique. However, I felt that some of the intense and urgent scenes could have had a bit more punch to them. Plus, there were a few 'hmm, not sure about that' coinkydink moments. Still, the story was compelling overall and refreshing. Sad at times, but with a satisfying ending, which I was hoping for.

If you enjoy women's fiction and historical novels set against the backdrop of war, this is a good one. It's feminist in perspective, but not annoyingly so. (In other words, I didn't sense an ax to grind or a chip on the author's shoulder.) A good choice for a book club discussion, I think. For me, 4.5 stars and a nice break from my usual fare of action thriller and suspense. (FYI, here's my review on Goodreads.)

Amazon Affiliate Link to Across the Winding River.


My 52 Week Challenge: Read and Review 52 Books in 2023 (Week 13)
(Books listed in reading order, not review order. And I'm behind, lol.)

1. Razored Land by Charles Gramlich - post-apocalypse (review TBD)
2. The Stroke of Winter by Wendy Webb - mystery (reviewed Jan 11)
3. Feast of Fools and Other Tales - S&S anthology (reviewed Jan 19)
4. Clovel Sword Saga (Vol 1&2) by Gordon Brewer - S&S (review TBD)
5. The Hike by Susi Holliday - mystery/thriller (reviewed March 7)
6. Valengetrix: Ghost of Aratania by J.R. Cason - sword & sorcery (reviewed Feb 25)
7. Swords & Heroes - Sword & Sorcery Anthology (edited by me! review TBD)
8. The Viking Gael Saga by J.T.T. Ryder - historical fiction (reviewed March 15)
9. Blackfoot Dawn by John Legg - a mountain man western (reviewed March 10)
10. Across the Winding River by Aimie K. Runyan - historical drama (reviewed above)


Currently Reading...
+ Laws and Prophecies (Sword's Edge Book 3) by L.S. King (sword and planet)
The Troubleshooters by William W. Johnstone (western vigilenta justice)
+ Boy Battles Bot (Space Invaders #1) by A.K. Meek (MG sci-fi adventure)

On My TBR List...
XLZABK001 by Jon Zaremba (fantasy and sword & sorcery collection)
The Song of Sangr by Gustavo Bondoni (sword and sorcery)
Skallagrim - In the Vales Of Pagarna by Stephen R. Babb (sword and sorcery)


In Real Life...
+ Going to try a different church tomorrow, more liturgical, near San Juan.
+ Then wer're going to check out the ferry that runs from Cataño to Viejo San Juan.
+ Getting the condo ready for both daughters and their husbands when they visit in May.

(Already bought a grill, some rooftop patio furniture, and items for the guest rooms. Still need to buy that stackable washer and dryer, but am hesitating since stores don't deliver to third floor apartments here! Yikes! So may just hire a guy off the street to help me carry them up three flights of stairs! lol)


Weekend Blog Hops
+ Sunday Post from Caffeinated Reviewer
+ Sunday Salon from Readerbuzz
+ Stacking the Shelves from Reading Reality

Drop a comment and a link to your blog and tell me what you're reading! Have a great weekend.

(This is Sunday Roundup #11)

Friday, March 10, 2023

My Review of Blackfoot Dawn by John Legg

Blackfoot Dawn by John Legg is Book 2 of the Mountain Times trilogy, a western series set in the days of the mountain men (1830s/40s). The main character is a big, burly mountain guide and trapper named Squire. He’s got a mean streak a mile wide and is called L’on Farouche (the Fierce) by his enemies, the Blackfeet Indians.

This novel is a standalone, but picks up where Book 1, Winter Rage, ends. Hired by an outfitter to trap beaver in the Rockies, Squire and his crew face all the challenges one would expect in the wilderness – wild animals, extreme weather, Indians on the warpath, conniving competitors.

Through it all, the author offers a generally exciting and interesting series of adventures. Squire is a bit unlikeable, imo, but the secondary characters are well-drawn and have stories of their own to tell, so it’s pretty solid writing overall.

Plot: At the annual Rendezvous, Squire sees a long-time foe whom he suspects knows the location of his long-lost son, stolen by the Blackfeet some 16 years prior. The story then flashes back to Squire’s origin story (as a boy, how he became so violent, and then as a young man) and how he lost his first wife and child in an Indian raid coordinated by some by a man named Carney, his nemesis.

The narrative is gritty, ugly, raw, full of violence, torture, scalpings, rape, foul language (too many GD’s and n-words for my taste), and general mayhem. If you like strong, uncensored and unfiltered action, this series might be for you. I skimmed quite a bit of those scenes and the novel seemed a bit long to me, but again pretty engrossing at times.

I was probably overly harsh with my review of the first book in the series, Winter Rage. I rated that novel at just under 3 stars. But together, I would put the series at 3.25 stars so far. I’ll eventually finish the trilogy (Book 3 is Mountain Rage), but I need a break from all the violence.

This is my 9th book I've finished this year and below I'm listing the books read and am linking to my reviews of each book - a 52 week challenge. I'm a bit behind but may catch up in a few weeks. I'm usually reading 4 or 5 books at a time and sometimes finish a few within a few days of each other. (grin)


My 52 Week Challenge: Read and Review 52 Books in 2023
(Books listed in reading order, not review order, lol.)

1. Razored Land by Charles Gramlich - post-apocalypse (review TBD)
2. The Stroke of Winter by Wendy Webb - mystery (reviewed Jan 11)
3. Feast of Fools and Other Tales - S&S anthology (reviewed Jan 19)
4. Clovel Sword Saga (Vol 1&2) by Gordon Brewer - S&S (review TBD)
5. The Hike by Susi Holliday - mystery/thriller (reviewed March 7)
6. Valengetrix: Ghost of Aratania by J.R. Cason - sword & sorcery (reviewed Feb 25)
7. Swords & Heroes - Sword & Sorcery Anthology (edited by me! review TBD)
8. The Viking Gael Saga by J.T.T. Ryder - historical fiction (reviewed March 9)
9. Blackfoot Dawn by John Legg - a mountain man western (reviewed above)