I am suspending my Friday Book Reviews for the next three to four weeks. For those of you that know, the spouse and I are moving from Massachusetts to North Carolina next month (in three weeks!) and there is just too much going on for me to even sit down and read a book right now. I’m trying to read “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell and I just can’t read more than a couple pages at a time. I will likely start over once I am set in North Carolina.
So for now I will stick to short stories – I have many back issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction filled with SciFi short stories to fill in those few minutes I get in between packing.
This week I am reviewing All the Wrong Places by Lisa Lieberman, an historical novel that takes place in the forties and fifties. I read this book this past week though I had purchased it in 2018 (I am behind on my reading). I enjoyed the story and the era she evoked through her writing.
A Good Read!
On the front it says “A Cara Walden Mystery” and while Cara Walden is the main character and the story is via her viewpoint, I wouldn’t call it a mystery. The crime happened when Cara was a child and is mentioned throughout the story as a possible accident or maybe a suicide, but murder isn’t mentioned as a possibility until the end.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book. Lisa Lieberman did an excellent job bringing the era to life. I could see Cara and her adventures in 1950’s England, then Italy, and France as she matured and tried to establish herself as an actress. Cara is the child of a famous actress known for her exceptional beauty and an equally famous director. Her brother is a screenwriter. So of course, she can’t imagine a life outside of the movie industry. She had already started acting before she was seventeen.
The story starts with Cara’s arrival in England with her brother, Gray, and family friend, Geoffrey (who is British). Geoffrey becomes more upper-class British each day, while Gray drinks more heavily. Even though Cara is only seventeen, she lives in London with Gray and Geoffrey as if an adult, going to bars and clubs, having parties, and acting, even singing in a bar.
But it is all not just parties and drinking, they come face to face with the racial tensions in London, sexual assault, McCarthyism, and class differences. So Lisa Lieberman takes on some serious issues, but weaves them expertly through the story. Additional themes come up when Cara is in Italy for a movie part. The effects of World War II on Italy, Communism, Fascism, and poverty are all covered, as Cara matures and learns more about the real world without the insulation provided by the movie world.
Lisa Lieberman’s exacting research on this era was excellent, encompassing events in the United States, England, Italy (specifically Sicily), Monaco and France. All the Wrong Places is an excellent historical novel that takes on an era that is often viewed through rosie tinted glasses, ignoring the social issues of the time. This book tackles them, not in a “in your face” fashion, but softly as Cara becomes aware of them and is changed by them. While this was not the mystery that I was expecting, it was still an excellent and enjoyable read.
This week I am reviewing Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Let me state that I have been a big fan of Hank’s since the first time I met her in 2012 at the Sunday Breakfast at Crime Bake. She is one of the most genuine people I have ever met. She offered her help to every person at the table, handed her cards around with a “call me anytime.” This was my first writing conference, and I will tell you, I was impressed. I have read a few of Hank’s other books, and enjoyed them, but this was the first stand alone of hers that I read.
Trust Me, you’ll enjoy this book!
I would call Trust Me a domestic psychological thriller. Throughout the book, you wonder did she do it or didn’t she do it? Did she kill her child? Is she a monster? Is she a victim?
As the book begins, we meet the main character, Mercer Hennessey, a respected journalist that has been out of commission since the tragic death of her husband and young daughter over a year before. Even though she is deeply troubled, she is given the assignment of writing a book about the woman, Ashlyn Bryant, who is on trial for the murder of her young daughter, Tasha Nicole.
In Part 1, Mercer is writing her book in conjunction with the trial as it takes place, weaving the actual testimony into her book. Everything she hears supports her conviction that Ashlyn is guilty of killing “Baby Boston” as Tasha Nicole was known as before being identified. Everyone in Boston mourned over this child, Mercer included. And everything she writes in the book reflects what she feels about Ashlyn.
Pulled into Mercer’s troubled thoughts the reader can’t help but wonder if she was truly the right person to write this story. Mercer has great empathy for Tasha Nicole, sometimes confusing her feelings for her own lost daughter with her feelings for this lost child. Hank Phillippi Ryan did a wonderful job weaving Mercer’s psychology and personality throughout the story, so that the reader is left not only questioning Mercer’s decisions, writing, and behavior, but also being pulled so deeply into her mind, that as the reader, you agree with her.
In Part 2, Mercer actually gets to spend time with and interview Ashlyn and begins to question her own thoughts and conclusions. Is Ashlyn truly guilty, or is she an innocent woman, also grieving for her daughter? Part 2 is delves into Ashlyn’s psychological make-up to a certain extent, but mostly to show how it sometimes merges and sometimes clashes with Mercer’s psychology. Is Ashlyn a master manipulator or is she a victim? The journey to the truth takes Mercer on a wild ride.
Trust Me is a great domestic thriller that keeps you guessing right until the end. I can highly recommend it.
I just finished writing a short story that I started a couple years ago, but had only gotten a page or so into it and lost my inspiration for it. Inspiration popped back into my head a few days ago. That’s the way it works for me – inspiration and then I write like a maniac. 2600 words and story completed.
This short story, “Usurpers” is going to my editor (daughter, LOL) to review. Finished it just in time to submit to the Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition. Deadline is June 5.
I need to get inspired and get busy with my Work in Progress.
This week I am not reviewing a work of fiction, but a non-fiction book, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. I read this book over the past week and a half. It took me that long because I found so much of value in it that I took copious notes and covered the pages with sticky notes.
Great for Outliners and Pantsers!
Now let me start by stating that I have always been a dedicated pantser and rebelled against outlining. The most I ever usually do is a detailed character profile. And then I just let those characters roam free, getting up to whatever nonsense they want.
But I have found that this can cause my characters to wander around, lost in a desert (literally, in one of my uncompleted novels). Nothing gets accomplished or advanced. This book can resolve that problem.
Jessica Brody shows you first how to confirm that you have a story-worthy hero and then she demonstrates the 3 Act structure and the 15 Beats of the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet. The 15 beats are broken down to explain what type of action is contained in each beat, what purpose it serves to advance the story, and what order they should be in. Then she breaks down the 10 Genres and shows sample beat sheets for published novels in each genre.
Beats are points of action for the hero(es) that move the story forward. As I was reading the Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, I was mentally comparing it to my Work in Progress, thinking: yes, I have that; that too; I covered that; oh, I didn’t think of that one-that could make a huge difference. As soon as I finished reading the book, I broke down my story according to the beats, realized that I didn’t have an Act 2 nemesis and figured out who it had to be and from there I was able to flesh out the rest of the book. I feel like I will be able to finish this book now and understand where my characters need to go and what they need to do. I still have the freedom of changing the beats as the action progresses, adding or removing scenes according to my characters’ development.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is having any issues organizing the action of the novel they are writing. Even if you are a Pantser.
This week, I am reviewing the Last Call at the Esposito, by Richard J Cass. I have read all four volumes in this series now and have enjoyed them very much. When Richard Cass was asked if this was truly the last call, he was noncommittal, and with a smile, said, “We’ll have to wait and see.”
An Excellent Addition to the Series.
Last Call at the Esposito is the fourth in the Elder Darrow Mystery series. It follows the the story of Elder Darrow, a recovering alcoholic who bought a bar, The Esposito, in Boston, on the theory that being surrounded by alcohol would help him with recovery. He has been more or less successful proving that theory.
Elder has encountered various mysteries and situations since purchasing the bar and cleaning it up from the dismal place it was, occupied by down and out street people, drug dealers, and sloppy drunks. His goal has been to turn The Esposito into a jazz club at night and a lunch bar during the day. He has been fairly successful at that.
He has gotten beaten up a few times and been on the wrong side of some of the “gangsters” in Boston. But has become friends with a Boston Homicide Detective, Dan Burton, who also has a drinking problem. He and Burton have had varied adventures over the previous three books, each saving the other, and that trend continues in this novel.
The premise in this novel is that there is a faction trying to get the Olympics to come to Boston. The area that would be absorbed by that project includes where the Esposito is located. Elder is understandably concerned and starts to look in to whether or not this looks likely. Of course, he irritates the wrong sort of people and things start to happen.
There is also a mystery concerning Kathleen, a woman he almost fell in love with before who disappeared on Elder. Well, she shows up again in this book and he is sidetracked by her reappearance. He is still trying to decide if he is or was in love with her and what’s her connection, if any, to the Olympics question?
My only criticism is the author, through Elder Darrow, is overly concerned with men’s wear. We get a detailed description of the outfit of every man that Elder meets. This includes the material of the suit and shirt, how well it fits, and what it’s condition is. This description pulls me out of the story and makes me think, “why do I care?” I realize that the clothing says a lot about the man, and that the condition of a man’s suit can also make a statement about the man, but I do think a briefer description would be more appropriate.
Except for this one criticism, I found this book to be a great addition to the series. The characters are well-developed, with both positive and negative character traits, and believable. I enjoyed this book very much and do hope that Cass is not quite done with Elder Darrow.
Overall, I would give Last Call at the EspositoFour and One Half Stars.**** 1/2*