Friday, December 26, 2014

Book Review: Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoad

Deeper Than the Dead (Oak Knoll, #1)Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tami Hoag once again crafted a mystery that keeps the reader engaged from the opening when four elementary school children find a dead body in the woods until the last page.

The carefully posed body, half buried, head resting on a stone, with eyes and mouth glued shut, terrifies the children and their teacher. Their safe world in a nearly crime-free town in California is safe no more. The loss of innocence of both the children and the teacher extends into the town itself.

To help the police solve the crime, an FBI investigator who has helped pioneer a new profiling technique volunteers his time. Nearly crippled by the remnants of a bullet in his brain, he is not officially on the job because his doctor hasn't cleared him to work. But he is needed and so he travels from Quantico to California.

Clues pile up as to the identity of the killer, leading to a wild ride filled with red herrings and all the men in the novel falling under suspicion of being the killer.

Hoag offers a blend of a serial killer with a twist, a host of possible suspects, a teacher desperately trying to preserve her students' innocence and an FBI agent who needs to feel vital again. The blend works on all levels.

I listened to this on a long driving trip. I recommend it for long car rides or cuddling up on a dark winter night with a cup of cocoa and the lights on.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review: Real Santa by William Hazelgrove

Real SantaReal Santa by William Hazelgrove

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We expect feel-good books at Christmas. No one wants to read a downer of a story. Heck, even A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens has a happy ending. So does REAL SANTA by William Hazelgrove.

Take one father who wasn't much of a father beyond being a good provider in his first marriage. Add a second marriage with a young girl who desperately wants to keep believing in the magic of Santa. Add losing a job just before Christmas. And stir in one man's desire to keep the Santa myth alive for at least one more year. And that is REAL SANTA.

Hazelgrove takes the reader back to the intersection of childhood when we could believe in magic and to growing up and out of the wonder of such magic. George decides he can really be Santa for one night. He nearly bankrupts the family trying to fulfill a promise to a child.

With the help of a cast of zany characters, including a frustrated Australian film director who turns the idea into a full-fledged production and a man who raises and leases reindeer. George works night and day to put together the pieces of getting live reindeer up onto his roof and him down the chimney.

The story stands on its own and belongs on the shelf of Christmas stories for decades to come.

I won't be a spoiler, but it does have a happy ending.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Mad Max Serialization, Chapter Two Part 1

Less than four hours after I spoke with Bette, I walked down
the center aisle of that last plane to National with a connection to
Richmond and found my seat. The last one in the middle of the last
row. I squeezed between a large woman in the window seat and an
even larger man on the aisle. I fetched the toy from my bag and held
it in my lap. I closed my eyes and leaned against the back of the
upright seat. I couldn’t recline an inch since there was a bathroom
right behind me. Before I realized what was happening, memories,
like an old movie, began their thousandth rerun in my head.

My husband Norm and I returned from a Friday night dinner
date. We laughed and talked about stopping at the farm store for ice
cream and cones for the kids.

I looked past Norm in the passenger seat. Two pairs of headlights
raced toward me. Before I could react, one car slammed into the
passenger side and spun us out of control. The second car braked
and veered to the right, rolled over in a corn field and exploded in
a fireball.

I was pinned to the driver’s door, my husband’s bleeding body in
my arms. The driver of the lead car stared at me out of dead eyes, his
body halfway through his windshield. I couldn’t see Norm’s face, but
his blood soaked my lap. I was sure I held a dead man. I screamed
and screamed before passing out.

I stopped the movie at the end of the first reel, unable to watch
it from beginning to end. I wanted to look out the window, but the
woman had pulled down the shade and stuffed her pillow into the
recess. I stared at the top of a balding head in the fully-reclined seat
in front of me and sighed. I was one second away from pitching a
fit and elbowing the people beside me. If either moved a hair, I’d be
squished. I wanted to cry and wring my hands, but I couldn’t. Not in
public. Instead, I stroked the toy, finding solace in its familiar worn

I revived as the fire department cut me free. I thrashed and
screamed, “Please. My children. Take me to my children!” My
stomach convulsed, and I thought I’d throw up. Instead, I hiccupped.
A doctor set my broken wrist, told me there was nothing he
could do for my ribs, and kept me in the hospital overnight to be sure
I didn’t have a concussion. The next day, my sister-in-law brought
fresh clothes and drove me home. I sleepwalked into the house to
deal with two distraught kids.

The jet bounced to a landing in Richmond so uncomfortable it
threw us against our seat belts and sent loose items racing down the
aisle. I might not have been able to move side to side, but nothing
stopped me from lurching forward. Had there been any room in the
overheads, sure as hell items would have shifted during flight.

I grabbed a cab, phoned the Colonel, and fretted most of the way
to VCU. When the taxi pulled up at the emergency room entrance,
I put on my I’m-wearing-my-big-girl-panties-and-can-deal-with anything
face and marched through the automatic doors. The
Colonel met me, held me in a worried hug, and took charge of my
roll-aboard. Door to door, it was less than twelve hours since Bette’s

“No news."

Available on Amazon for $1.99

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mad Max Serialization, Chapter One Part 5

Eleanor and Raney talked over each other in their efforts to find
out what happened. I told them what little I knew. Our cab hit every
possible red light as we made our way uptown where shoppers and
tourists thronged the sidewalks in spite of the cold wind. Our driver
stomped on the brake when a couple stepped into traffic without
looking. When we stopped in front of my building on the Upper East
Side, my doorman hurried to help. Eleanor asked him to call my car

Raney took charge of getting my bag packed. “You find a flight.
We’ll do the rest.”

I worked my phone until I found the last seat on a US Airways
flight to Richmond through Washington National. I had just over
two hours to pack and get to LaGuardia. I glanced out the window.
Oh great. Snow.

“How long do you think you will be gone?” Eleanor moved
through my bedroom, selected clothes, folded them, and put them
into my roll-aboard suitcase.

“No idea. A week, probably.”

I stood helpless near the window and looked across Park Avenue
into the snowy park. Please don’t let Merry die.

With all that was on my mind, I forgot to change out of my
standard gallery attire— cashmere sweater, matching wool trousers,
scarf, and boots. I’d been channeling Ingrid Bergman, elegant and

I called the hospital but got the runaround. An emergency room
nurse told me she couldn’t give out patient information; it was
against regulations. I wanted to shout “Regulations, my ass! I’m her
mother!” but I knew it would do no good.

I called the Colonel. He hadn’t seen Merry. When he arrived, a
half-dozen doctors were in a curtained-off area at the back of the
emergency room. He used his colonel’s voice, but the ER nurse was

“Should’ve been a drill sergeant.”

The Colonel’s words made me smile for the first time since Bette

I called Emilie next. She was scared and worried about her

“I feel Mom’s dying.”

“I’m on my way. My flight leaves in a couple of hours. If you
find out anything, text. Okay?”


My phone buzzed again with a text from Alex. “I beat Em at Clue
last night. Mom wrecked her car.”

I held out the phone to Eleanor and Raney. “Trust a ten-year-old
to have his priorities straight.”

I walked toward my apartment door then stopped and took a
detour into a guest bedroom. I rummaged through a drawer until I
found a battered toy, which I tucked into my shoulder bag.

Raney opened the door, and we left my apartment. The ten
seconds we waited for the elevator seemed like an hour.

“Try and keep things on the ‘on’ side with Merry.” Raney put
her arm around my waist. I heard “before it’s too late” even though
Raney was too diplomatic to say so.

“Make this a wake-up call.”

I hugged my friends, promised to call, and stepped into my car.

“I’ll do my best. Just hope it’s good enough.”

Raney blocked the door. “Did you ever think we’d see Maxine
Davies have a Mommy two-dot-oh moment, Eleanor?”

“Certainly not.”

“Merry’ll tell you I wasn’t good at Mommy one dot oh.”

“Well, now you have a second opportunity.”

“Life is giving you a ...,” Eleanor fumbled for a word, “doo-wop.”

“Do over.” Raney laughed.

“You guys are giving me a do over?”

“Don’t blow it.” Raney shut the car door and stepped back. Both
women waved goodbye.

Available on Amazon for $1.99

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mad Max Serialization, Chapter One Part 4

Eleanor tipped the coat check girl, and we walked out into the
New York winter cold. Crosstown wind made me pull my trench coat
tighter around me. Raney stepped off the curb and flagged down a
taxi. The skies had dropped since we entered the gallery, and the
smell of snow was in the air.

I gave the girls a thumbnail account of Bette’s call.
“Could she be overreacting?” Eleanor knew of Bette but not how
she might behave in a crisis.

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen her in an emergency.”
Before I could press the recall button, a text came through.

“Mom’s hurt bad. I’m scared. Please come home.”

I sent my granddaughter a text and called Bette. “What

“The police called this morning. Her car ran off the road last
night. She’s hurt real bad.” There was fear in Bette’s voice. “The
Colonel is at the hospital, but he doesn’t know much more than I do.
All the police could tell us was that they found her car this morning.”

“I don’t understand.”

"I’ll tell you more later. She’s in surgery. A herd of specialists are
working on her.”


“Just hurry, please.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I clamped down on my emotions
and tried not to panic. “Where’s Whip?”

“He’s been in the Middle East for several weeks. He’s due home
today. We’ve tried reaching him, but no luck. He’s probably in the
air. We had the kids overnight and got the call this morning when
the Colonel and I were driving them home.”

“How did they find you?”

“I don’t know. Anyway, the Colonel dropped the children and
me at their house and went straight to the hospital. Call me here. Oh,
here’s the Colonel’s cell number.”

Bette rattled off a series of numbers. Before I could fumble for
a piece of paper, Eleanor held up a small notebook and a silver pen.
I repeated the number to be certain I heard it right. Eleanor jotted
it down.

“One more thing. The EMTs airlifted Merry to Virginia
Commonwealth Medical Center, not County.”


“VCU has a better trauma center.”

“I see. I’ll be in touch. Thanks.” I shut the phone.

Available on Amazon for $1.99

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mad Max Serialization, Chapter One Part 3

And the saga continues.

I milled around wall-to-wall people who sipped wine and talked
about the new hot artist having his first New York showing at
Primary Colors.

The crowd churned and whirled, groups forming and reforming
near the artist holding court in a rear corner. Servers danced around
patrons and offered wine and hors d’oeuvres on silver trays. Tiny
napkins and toothpicks drifted to the floor in a rain of elegant litter.
New guests brought welcome cold air into the room’s stuffy heat. It
was nearly February. Had the opening been earlier in the winter,
expensive perfume would have warred with mothball-protected
coats. Mothballs would have won.

Nancy Blair, owner of Primary Colors, worked her way through
the crowd and gave me the requisite number of air kisses, two near
each cheek. She did the same with Raney and Eleanor, who then
moved off to look at the paintings and drawings hanging on matte white
walls. Nancy linked her arm through mine and led me toward
the artist.

“Wait till you meet him, Mrs. Davies. He’s positively the most
amazing painter I’ve had in the gallery in years.” Nancy’s breathless
delivery was all gush.

As we struggled through the crowd, my cell phone buzzed. I
didn’t recognize the number, frowned, and flipped up the cover. I
shrugged an apology at Nancy.


“Maxine? Is that you?”

“Yes.” I pressed a finger against my free ear to block the ambient

“It’s Bette.”

Bette? It took me a second. Right, Merry’s mother-in-law. She
rarely called.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s Merry. She’s been in an accident.”

Merry? Hurt?

“Come home, Maxine. She may not make it.”

I hitched my handbag up on my shoulder, my brain spinning
from Bette’s message.

“I’ve got to get out of this noise. I’ll call you right back.”
I shut the phone, waved at my girlfriends, and pointed toward
the coat check.

“I have an emergency,” I apologized to Nancy. “I have to leave.”
“I’ll hold Two Sisters for you.”

“Maxine, you look like a ghost crossed your grave. What is

Available on Amazon for $1.99

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mad Max Serialization, Chapter One Part 2

We continue with Chapter One. Remember, all I ask is to tell your friends if you like the book.

Truth be told, I let Merry dictate the terms of our contact with
each other, even though I knew I was taking the coward’s way out.
I’d asked Merry more than once why she seemed distant so much of
the time, but she refused to discuss it. I couldn’t force her to forgive
me for whatever infractions I committed while raising her. All I
could do was maintain as calm a demeanor as possible.

“Hey, I scheduled my annual ski trip.” I wasn’t in the mood for
a discussion on something so touchy.

“Changing the subject?” Raney winked at me.

“Sure am.”

Henri brought our salads and disappeared. We ate in near
silence for a few minutes.

“What do you think about this new artist? He’s supposed to be
all the rage in Europe.”

We always ate at Le Bistro when one of our favorite art galleries
had an opening. Otherwise, SoHo was way too far off our beaten

“Did you see his catalog?” Raney asked.

“I did. He is too avant-garde for me. I prefer more conventional
art where I can actually recognize what the artist painted.” Eleanor
pulled the catalog from her handbag and flipped it open to a couple
of abstract pieces. “Take this one. I do not see ‘Forest and Trees’ in
this swirl of orange, yellow, and red.”

“Maybe it’s a forest fire.” I didn’t like the painting because the
colors were too vivid. I was, however, interested in a mid-sized
portrait of two sisters in more muted colors. I pointed to the painting
in the catalog. “I really want this one. So peaceful.”

“Where would you hang it? You don’t have much wall space left.”

Raney was right. I’d hung way too many prints and oils
throughout my apartment.

“Probably in my bedroom. I’ll move something.”

We lingered over lunch and gossip until half an hour after the
official opening of the gallery to avoid the crush of patrons pushing
to enter.

Available on Amazon for only $1.99.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Kicking Off Mad Max Serialization, Chapter One

Beginning on November 16, I will serialize Mad Max Unintended Consequences through this blog and its subsequent links in social media. Why? Three reasons, actually.
  1. I want to attract new readers.
  2. My publisher Koehler Books is offering the e-book for $1.99 on Amazon until further notice.
  3. Book two in the series, Mad Max Uncharted Territory is set for publication in June 2014.
I will release bits of the first novel on this blog on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays to entice you to pick up the book on Amazon. I track my sales carefully. I'd like to see them bump up before the holidays and continue until Max 2 comes out. Only you can help.

Please tell you friends about the serialization. Writers, please share the posts with your readers. Readers, please tell other readers. My thanks in advance.

We begin with Chapter One.

Raney and Eleanor, two of my dearest friends, sat at a small
table in Le Bistro in SoHo, gossiping about their grandchildren. I
tossed my ankle-length mink trench and fedora atop their coats and
slid onto an empty chair. Henri placed a cup of coffee beside me,
offered a short list of lunch specials, and vanished into the back.

“Why do we call him ‘Henri’?” Raney asked. “His name’s Barney.”

“Same reason my grandkids call me Mad Max. It fits.”

We scanned the menu we all knew by heart. Henri returned,
took our orders, and left. Talk returned to our grandchildren. Raney
brought me up to date on what her darlings were doing: school
dances, track meets, mid-year tests. All the usual stuff.

“My granddaughter’s pregnancy is not going as well as it should.”
Eleanor’s perfect, slightly old-fashioned diction revealed her uppercrust
British upbringing. “I may go to Phoenix to help.”

“Oh, dear,” said Raney. “I hope it’s not like her first one.”

“We will not know for a month or two.”

I felt a familiar itch of envy for the easy relationships Eleanor
and Raney enjoyed with their daughters. So normal.

“How are your grandkids, Max?” Raney asked.

“Great. Alex can’t stop buzzing about his ice hockey team.
They’re having their first winning season. He’s so psyched. Em texts
about her next school break. She wants to visit.”

I talked to or texted with Alex and Emilie every day since their
father, Whip, gave them cell phones for Christmas. I had more fun
with my grandkids than I’d had with my own two children. Maybe it
was because I had almost no responsibility except to love and spoil
them. Maybe it was because I could send them back to their parents
when I got tired.

“What about Merry? When was the last time you talked to her?”

“Last week. She complained about how cold January has been.”

“She should live in New York.” Raney shook her head and

My daughter and I had an off-again, on-again relationship,
which started after her father’s death when she was eleven. I wanted
us to be more “on” than “off” and worked hard to pick my words so
she wouldn’t take offense. It didn’t take much to set her off at times.

“I was in Richmond over Christmas and spent all my time with
the kids. They have their own phones now, so I call them directly. I
call Merry just once a week. I don’t want to meddle.”

“Why do you let her get away with placing such restrictions on
your relationship?” Eleanor asked.

“She reminds me grandparents have privileges, not rights. I
can’t lose contact, so I play by her rules."

Chapter One continues on Tuesday,

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: The Viral Storm by Nathan Wolfe

The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic AgeThe Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age by Nathan Wolfe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nathan Wolfe's The Viral Storm should be required reading for everyone talking or worrying hysterically about the current Ebola outbreak. An internationally recognized expert in the fields of viral forecasting, immunology, infectious diseases and human biology, Dr. Wolfe's book reads like a primer rather than a text book. His language is approachable for all readers.

He breaks down how viruses, both good and evil, developed alongside humans. He tracks the history of viruses that are benign. We need them in our bodies to process food and protect us from the evil viruses.

His discussions on how deadly viruses move from animal hosts to human hosts are the stuff of thrillers. Some, he points out, infect an individual and kill it, thereby stopping the transmission. Others, like HIV, swine flu and bird flu, are transmitted from human to human. Some,like Ebola and HIV, can only be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. Others, swine and bird flu, are actually more dangerous because they easily pass through the human population by droplets in the air.

I bought this book for research for a mystery I'm writing. The book works on that dimension. More importantly, it works as an educational work that takes the hysteria out of pandemics by talking calmly about what these viruses are, how they are transmitted and how they can be forecast at the beginning of an outbreak before it becomes an epidemic or, worse, a pandemic.

I urge anyone interested in learning about illnesses to read this book. You will be better informed. Dr. Wolfe's journey is mankind's.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Review: Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past by Sharyn McCrumb

Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past: A Ballad NovellaNora Bonesteel's Christmas Past: A Ballad Novella by Sharyn McCrumb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fans of Sharyn McCrumb's ballad series need wait no longer for a new Nora Bonesteel story. NORA BONESTEEL'S CHRISTMAS PAST offers McCrumb at her best with two parallel stories centered around Christmas Eve.

In the primary story, Nora Bonesteel, she with the Sight, welcomes a new family in the old Honeycutt place next to her family home on the mountain. Summer people have decided to spend the holiday season instead of returning to Florida. Shirley Haverty wants to be friends with Nora but lacks knowledge of mountain traditions. She's too pushy at first, although she gradually backs off. When she arrives on Nora's doorstep one morning with a tale of her house being haunted, Nora invites her in, listens to the story and has an idea about what is happening in the parlor over at the Honeycutt mansion. She's sure her old friend is keeping a promise to be home by Christmas. The promise was made in the Second World War.

A parallel story involving the sheriff and his deputy takes the two on a trip up a mountain just as bad weather sets in. Pressured by a prominent politician to arrest a man for hitting his wife's car over in Tennessee and running from the accident send the two men on a journey they aren't likely to forget. They find their quarry, an old man living in a rundown farm house, at the end of a gravel lane. When they try to get the man to go with them, he agrees but is concerned for his aging wife. She needs firewood. A window in the bathroom lets in icy air. The two lawmen help split and stack firewood and reglaze the window. Darkness comes early. Before they can leave, the old man notices his cattle have gotten out of the barn. Again, the two lawmen help.

I won't tell you what happens in either story, but long-time fans will not be disappointed. The richness of McCrumb's detail, her deep knowledge of mountain tradition, her acknowledgement that prying is a breach of good manners combine to bring us a heartwarming read.

Yes, it's about Christmas. More, it's about human nature.

Received through NetGalley before I bought the book for my collection.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Book Review: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

MockingbirdMockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kathryn Erskine imagines what it would be like for a ten-year-old child to have to deal with the death of her brother. (No spoiler here) Caitlin has Asperger's syndrome and sees her world as black and white. She literally interprets what goes on around her, doesn't know how to read people's moods and has many of the tics and behaviors we associate with someone who finds the world confusing.

Until The Day Our Life Fell Apart, Devon translates the world for Caitlin. When students and teachers at his middle school are gunned down, Caitlin is set adrift. Her father has difficulty coping with her while trying to understand his own grief.

Caitlin's best friend is her dictionary. She learns two words, closure and empathy, that help her help her father.

Erskine wrote the manuscript after the Virginia Tech shootings and before Sandy Hook. Through Caitlin she explains the unexplainable.

A wonderful read for people of all ages.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Review: 400 Things Cops Know

Sometimes I buy a book because I think it will be good for research in the future. I usually scan it, pick up and read random chapters and put it on the shelf. Then I bought 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman by Adam Plantinga, I thought I'd follow the same pattern. So did not happen.

I don't know what I expected, but Plantinga delivered so much more information in a way that made this list of "things" a page turner. Well written with terrific organization, the book falls into chapters like "16 Things Cops Know about Booze and Drugs." Each chapter has a theme and a series of short entries. "You'll read about people on their fifth DUI conviction, their seventh, their ninth. It's enough to make you look around at the way other countries do things. Drive drunk in Finland and the punishment is a year of hard labor."

"If you encounter an assault victim in the 'hood who has been punched in the mouth and is missing teeth, ask him if his teeth were knocked out tonight or had they already been like that. It is a wholly appropriate question, for dental hygiene is one of many casualties of the urban environment."

For a writer, Plantinga's blunt and often humorous style should help us be better writers. Why? Because for one thing, he takes us inside a cop's head so we can look at the world through his eyes. Because he debunks so much of what we watch on television. It should come as no shock that the needs for visual drama trump policing procedures.

Take the Miranda bugaboo. Cops in real life don't immediately read a perp his rights. "As a police officer, you are required to read someone their rights only after they are in police custody and you have begun interrogating them about an offense. Custody plus interrogation equals Miranda, not before."

Chasing a perp isn't high on Plantinga's list of preferred activities. Many reasons. You don't usually stand a chance of catching a fleet-footed youth. You don't know what's around the corner and down an alley. You may have spent too much time at the Donut Diner. And female cops and detectives NEVER, EVER chase a suspect in high heels. Sure way to break an ankle. Besides, you won't catch him.

I ordered this before it was released. When it arrived, I fell on it like a starving person finding a chocolate cache.

For my mystery writer peeps out there, stop reading this and order it. Read it. Return to it often. I plan to.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

First of all, I love any writer who shares a first name with me. Betsy Lerner and I are also writers. Beyond that, I doubt there are many similarities.

Lerner divides her book into two main sections: writing and publishing. She makes clear that these are not the same, although no one is published without writing first. She explains that there are different types of writers. The ambivalent writer has so many ideas for projects that few if any are begun, let alone finished. The natural writer, a rare beast, perhaps even an endangered species, seems to have all the right words in all the right order without having to learn the craft of writing. The wicked child uses her family as the jumping off point for characters and plots. Right or wrong, often she trashes her family all in the name of art. Others are the self-promoter, the neurotic and those touching fire. Most writers will find themselves in one if not more of her types.

In the second half of the book, publishing, Lerner gives terrific advice on seeking and landing an agent (she herself is one and knows of what she writes), handling rejection (even Stephen King garnered a stack of rejections before his first sale), knowing what editors are looking for, knowing what you as a writer wants, working on the book with your editor and marketing your work after publication.

I recommend this to anyone who is starting out as a writer. Lerner pulls no punches yet leaves you laughing at some of her lessons. They serves beginning authors well. Those of us who have published a book or books already can still learn from this book. It's a reference book full of common sense and oft overlooked advice on how to behave as a writer.

It should be on every writer's bookshelf -- after the writer has read it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Review: Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas

Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime UnitMindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars on Goodreads

John Douglas has written a reference book that belongs on the desk of any crime writer. Even though not every writer discusses the FBI's serial crime or the behavioral analysis units, this study into the mind of criminals opens endless possibilities for topics while at the same time reinforces the effort these brave agents go through to solve some of the most bizarre crimes. The model for Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs, Douglas detailed profiles, habits and next moves to give law enforcement officers new tools to use in their fight against crime.

Through interviews with many of the most notorious serial killers and mass murderers, Douglas takes the reader inside their minds. From Charles Manson, who had to sit on the back of a chair to appear taller than he was, to Richard Speck, who murdered nurses in South Chicago, Douglas holds little back. Evil people are portrayed in all their evilness. This journey leaves the reader wanting a hot shower, sleeping with the lights on and jumping at every strange sound in familiar surroundings.

Chilling and yet fascinating, the reader will want to turn away but won't be able to.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Marketing on Steroids

This post is likely to annoy some, anger others and spur a different group to aim higher. Why annoy? Because some of my writer friends think every writer should have this kind of marketing support. Why anger? Because some of this came about during negotiations between an agent and a publisher. Why spur on and encourage? Because the more we write, the better we get as writers and marketeers. The better we get, the better our sales. And the greater the possibility we have to land one of these contracts where more is done for us.

A bit of background before I dissect this full-page ad from Publishers Weekly. Sharyn McCrumb is a long-time NYT bestselling author. Her ballad novels featuring Nora Bonesteel are continuing favorites. There hasn't been a new one in a long time. This novella comes ready made for success.

That said, Abingdon Press, which has been around for 200+ years, is throwing a ton of effort behind this release. Let's parse this ad.

  1. 100-copy early reader campaign. Most of us with small press contracts are lucky to have 10-15 copies to send out. We have to badger our publishers for the Kindle file to attract reviewers. Many of the names for the early readers came from Sharyn herself, but not all. Some came from the publisher knowing who the best earlier readers in her genre are. All are expected to review the book. 
  2. 100-copy radio reviewers promo. I don't know 100 radio reviewers. I would need a PR specialist to help with this.
  3. Multi-media publicity campaign. I know most of my local newspaper and magazine publishers. Outside of a 50-mile radius, I'm just another writer looking for column inches. I can send press releases and hope, but it helps if you know someone at the publication to grease the skids. As far as national book review pubs, again it's rather a crap shoot as to whether my book will be reviewed or not. I have to try, but I would rather have a bit of help to attract attention.
  4. Author signings at large festivals and book fairs. NYT bestsellers do well because they have support.  If an indie or small press author gets in, it's a lonely place. If you are with a publishing company that has high visibility. you'll be overwhelmed. Otherwise, you're likely to be underwhelmed.
  5. 20-stop regional author tour in southeast. Again, having a large publisher behind you to set up the appointments helps bring bodies and dollars to your events. You can do it yourself given enough time and contacts. If your book will attract a regional audience through its subject, you'll have a better chance of doing this on your own.
  6. National print and online advertising. Not likely if you are with a small press or on your own. I don't have deep pockets to pay for advertising.
  7. #NoraIsBack social medial campaign. All of us can do this. We can register our book titles and put together social media events. It takes time that you might not be able to spend.
  8. Online reading group guides. We should all have these on our web pages. If our publishers will print the guides at the back of the book, all the better. Some will; others won't. AT least put these on your websites, along with topics you are qualified to talk about.
  9. Abingdon Book club and blogger program. This works if your publisher has such programs. If not, you're on your own.
Is this all bad news for indie and small press published writers? No, because there are several things in this list we can all do without spending a boatload of money. We'll spend a boatload of time, thought. It's hard to figure out how to divide our time between promotion and writing the next book. We are often reminded that selling books is a marathon, not a sprint. True, but publishers would like to see a return on their investment in publishing our works. So would we.

We have to be smart to control the stress of feeling we have to do it all. Good publishers and agents can and should help. Alas, not all do.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: For I Have Sinned by Kristen Houghton

For I Have SinnedFor I Have Sinned by Kristen Houghton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'll start by saying I'm really pissed off at Kristen Houghton. Her well-written book cost me a good night's sleep, because I stayed up waaay too late to finish it. I've read several things by this writer and liked them. Without a doubt, this is her best book yet.

Kristen Houghton proves there is room for one more tough, sexy PI with the introduction of Cate Harlow, who takes her place alongside PI Warshawski and Stephanie Plum.

Houghton takes a lead from the headlines to discuss pedophilia in the priesthood. A year before the book opens, Cate found the body of a terribly mutilated man. The story is buried; the man was not. Ten years later in current time, she takes a job to find a teen who vanished the same year as the murder. The missing person case is long cold, but Cate displays a soft heart for the downtrodden. A well-drawn character with many levels of meaning, she begins delving into what happened to the boy when her ex husband and homicide detective calls her in the middle of the night to come to a crime scene. There she sees the mutilated body of another man, this one wearing a priest's collar, a lot of blood and nothing else.

The new murder is eerily similar to the older one, although the first body wasn't identified as a priest. She is troubled by the collar and a Latin message written inside. Cate and Will, the ex, combine with Cate's current boyfriend, the medical examiner, to figure out what happened.

Secondary characters are fully fleshed out, providing a rich tapestry of human behavior, desire and motive. From a pair of homeless men to a friendly neighbor to a mysterious man who appears without much warning, Houghton gives us characters that are real. You want to know what happens to them. You want to know their history, their backstory if you will. You want to know how each fits into the tapestry of a terrible murder.

The book is fast paced, well written and brings to light a delightful character in Cate Harlow and a wonderful contrasting pair of lovers. This first in a series promises hours of page-turning reading.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Fairs

I've gone to two book fairs so far this year. I have three more scheduled. Last year I did many more. So why did I cut back this year? Several reasons.

About the best most of us can hope for is a few dozen books sold at a fair. These usually run one day from ten in the morning until sometime between two and four in the afternoon. Others run two days. Since some require an overnight stay due to distance, writers should factor in the expenses when deciding whether or not to go to a fair. If you draw a largish crowd at your table, you'll have to worry about spending only a few minutes with each buyer.

We meet fellow writers on the same circuit and catch up on family and friends. I caught up with Arnetta Philpott Hairston who brings her son's books to events until he's able to do it himself.

Let's do the math. Say I have a great fair. I meet with 30-40 readers, some of whom are already part of the Mad Max "family," while others are shopping for a new book with different characters. Say I sell 25 books at the fair. Now factor in five such events a year. I'd be able to reach 150-200 readers and sell 125 books. Add in at least one overnight for one of the fairs, plus gasoline, food, etc., and the return on each book sold quickly goes into the negative.

But how else do we reach our readers, you howl. I want to do book signings and be loved by my readers, you whimper. I want to thank them for buying my book, for supporting my writing efforts. It's a conundrum most debut writers face. We won't have the big book tours paid for by our publishers. We won't pack Barnes and Noble through having a poster in the window and a small blurb in the papers. We won't be on the Today Show, NPR, Oprah or CNN's book show. We won't have a publicist pushing us here and there, guiding us through the pits of marketing, unless we hire one. We have to do the work ourselves. That said, we have to be smart about how we spend our time.

I wondered if I was crying into the wilderness until I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal last weekend. Titled "Fiction's Digital Alchemist," the article features how Paulo Coelho, everything best selling author (NYT, USA Today, etc.) has changed his outlook on marketing. The article laid it out pretty clearly. Before he cut out book events, he calculated the following:

"In the past, each reader at a book signing would ask him to autograph about three novels (he has 27 out) and pose for a photo, amounting to a two-minute encounter. All told, that meant interacting with maybe 90 readers at a few dozen book events each year." Oh phooey. My estimates are way too high. Sigh.

He goes on: "Now he can write 'at least one kind word' to roughly 30 people a day and reach more than 10,000 a year. In the past six months, he has gained 4.1 million fans on Facebook through "likes" on his page."

And that, my fellow writers, is a good use of time.

Several years ago, I heard a middle grade author talk about answering every personal tweet. Granted, she only said things like "OMG. So happy you loved my story. Happy face." She kept a small file of  responses which she cut and pasted into her responses. Her fans stayed and were very happy.

For those of us who have day jobs, or who are shy and don't like to put themselves in front of people, or who may not be able to travel for a whole host of reasons, this might serve as a trail guide for reaching readers. I put together a daily timeline for responding to email, FB and Twitter. I alternate between writing and interacting. It's easy and takes the stress away from balancing reaching out and writing down.

I answer every, and I mean every, personal note. My numbers on FB, LinkedIn, Goodreads and Twitter continue to grow. My newsletter has nearly 1000 members. Can I say that any of these activities leads directly to sales? No, but if I don't do anything, I guarantee I will turn inactivity into no sales at all.

Now I figure out how these contacts translate into sales. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review: When the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle

When the Killing's DoneWhen the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I listened to the audio version of T.C. Boyle's When the Killing's Done, read by Anthony Heald. I'm glad I did, because I might not have finished reading it.

Boyle's unusual subject of killing invasive animals in the Channel Islands off the coast of California brings to light the controversy that rocked California years ago. A park service biologist pits herself against members of PETA and a fictitious group of animal rights advocates who want to stop the slaughter of feral pigs and rats. Straightforward enough, except the narrative ranges across three generations, multiple downings and boat sinkings and too many characters whose names begin with the same letter. I found it hard to keep up with Alma, Anise, Anabelle and others whose names began with A.

Not only does the narrative range back and forward in time, it is presented from the point of view of several characters. I'm sure seeing the character's name on the page would have helped. All the characters are brought together through the generations by the end of the book, which in this reader's mind was forced.

Head-hopping, i.e., written from differing points of view, often within the same paragraph, and characters with similar sounding names make the reader work hard to stay with the book to the end.

So, why the three stars? Because the reader was excellent. Alma, the biologist and protagonist, has fairly a straight-line thought process, although when she slips into confusion, and when Heald uses his pacing to portray that confusion, the book surges. Dave LaJoy, the antagonist, is full of anger, which might have become tedious on the printed page. Again, Heald saves the day with his rush of anger and near breathless delivery.

Would I recommend reading it? Only if you like convoluted sentences and tortured thoughts. Would I recommend it as an audio book? Definitely. Heald made all the difference in whether I cared for the characters or not.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at Way by Robert Gates

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at WarDuty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Gates' book provides extraordinary insight into the behind-the-scenes working of two presidencies. The title alone is telling: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. Not a Secretary of Defense, but a secretary at war.

Nowhere in this book does Gates forget to remind us he served in the Department of Defense when the U.S. was conducting two unpopular wars. Nowhere does he denounce the two presidents he served as SecDef, Bush 43 and Obama.

Gates details his support for his troops in nearly every interaction he has with the White House and Congress. He is critical of the White House under both presidents, often railing against principals who have really very little experience with the troops, micromanagement and political realities where budgets are approved or not based not on the actual needs of wartime reality. In most cases, math trumped approved strategies.

Late in a book that would have benefited from tight editing, he takes on Congress: "Uncivil, incompetent in fulfilling basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations, micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned, often putting self (and reelection) before country--this was my view of the United States Congress." He pulls few punches.

Gates is an angry man. He is also a fair man, taking responsibility for his actions and fighting for the troops.

For all his candor, he writes: "I was put off by the way the president (Obama) closed the meeting. To his very closest advisers, he said, 'For the record, and for those of you writing your memoirs, I am not making decisions about Israel or Iran.' I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters."

And yet Gates did. While the current president is still in office. One wonders what his motive was.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: Imagine: The Story of a Song

IMAGINE: The Story of a SongIMAGINE: The Story of a Song by Charles J. Shields

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I try not to thrust myself in the middle of a book review, but this time I refuse to restrain myself. Charles Shields takes one of my favorite songs, an anthem for peace, and provides backstory on how the song was written. This slender book treats the song with the dignity it deserves. By delving into the backgrounds of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, of their formative years against war-torn Japan and England, the privations they suffered and their dedication to their respective art forms, he brings a new dimension to appreciating a song that defines a generation and defies time.

Many who came to love John Lennon's music more recently mistake this for a Beatles song. By the time this was written, the Beatles were no more. Couple this with "Give Peace a Chance." Lennon and Ono were on a path to share messages of peace and love through music. Imagine might be the best song written by Lennon. It might be the best song ever written. That's a matter of personal preference. For me, it's the voice of my generation seeking to give mankind a second chance to "get it right."

This slim volume is not a book about the Beatles. Not a book about John Lennon himself. A book about a song, what influenced the writer, how it came into being, what was happening in the life of the writer and singer.

I recommend this to anyone who has ever been moved by lyrics and melody. Imagine has both. If I could write any song ever, it would be this one.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Book Review: Caught by Deirdre Thurston

Deirdre Thurston's collection of essays and short stories is a delightful escape for summer reading. A combination of universal themes of friendship, love and loss, guilt and memories overlaid with a strong dose of New Zealand phraseology takes the reader down familiar paths that often end with an unusual twist.

"Love Story," a nostalgic memory of a grandmother, is triggered by an elderly couple who sit next to the narrator in a movie theater. From the way the woman is dressed to the scent of talc, the narrator indulges is a series of memories, often wondering if the woman sitting near her has similar memories.

"Mae" takes the reader into a family tragedy where a child dies in a hot bath. Here the narrator faces guilt at the loss of her younger sister. Events from decades earlier still color the narrator's memory of that dreadful day.

"Ali" brings two best friends together to catch up on their lives. One is married, a bit dumpy and settled; the other is oft-married, elegant and in love with a long-distance trucker.

Painful memories of birthdays past where narrators don't receive recognition or gifts they want. Celebrations of a daughter turning twenty-one. A longing to learn to ride a bike when the narrator thinks she's too old and plump. Each story, each essay is a small gem waiting for you to find and polish it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: Virginia Is For Mysteries

If you've never tried to review an anthology, you don't know how hard it is. No matter what you say about the individual stories, one or more of the writers is bound to think, "Oh phooey. She didn't like my story." Not true.

VIRGINIA IS FOR MYSTERIES contains 17 stories, all set in Virginia, all east of Richmond (as if there're no good writers or stories west of Richmond). A Virginia chapter of Sisters in Crime developed the idea of the anthology, with proceeds going to Sisters in Crime. This was truly a labor of love.

Okay, I have to call out several stories which I particularly enjoyed. (Did I hear writers sucking in their collective breaths in hopes I'd pick their contribution? I hope not, but as a writer I'd be holding my breath.)

In Teresa Inge's "Guide to Murder," Connar Randolph leads several tourists on a visit to her home, Cavalier on the Hill, in Virginia Beach. All goes well until one guest makes snarky remarks about restorations. Connar ignores him, leads the group to the roof for a spectacular view and then downstairs to the gardens. Things take a turn for the worse when snarky guest turns up dead. Replete with plot twists and red herrings, "Guide to Murder" leads the reader down an unexpected path at the end.

"Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery", Vivian Lawry's historical fiction, features a "soiled dove," Civil War era jargon for a prostitute, who has a thriving clientele of Butterflies. These men like their sex a little kinkier that the up-tight times suggest, including cross-dressing and rituals with chocolate and sugar best left to the imagination.

Maggie King's "A Not So Genteel Murder" is set against the backdrop of a birthday party for a wealthy woman, where murder, mayhem, mistaken identities and a healthy dose of the recent past combine to keep the reader turning pages until the last one. And then, the reader will say, "I didn't see that coming."

"Best Friends Help You Move the Body," by Jayne Ormerod, two friends spend boozy nights dreaming up plot twists, but none they imagine is as outrageous as the real thing. One woman is a not-yet-published writer with aspirations of producing a mystery novel.  When the other becomes a person of interest following a murder in her neighborhood, her friend sets out to prove she couldn't lift and carry a body to the trunk of a car. A wonderful girl romp that begs to be enjoyed at the beach.

Last, but by no means least, is "Death in the House" by Rosemary Shomaker. When a member of the Virginia House of Delegates collapses during a discussion on a bill allowing gay marriages, a set of events cascades nearly out of control to the unexpected ending.

17 stories. Each a little gem. Each worthy of reading on the deck, at the beach, in the mountains. A collection to be enjoyed again and again. I'm keeping it in my guest bedroom for late-night perusing.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Book Review: An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff

Looking for a gift for Mother's Day? This one might fit the bill.

An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with DestinyAn Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny by Laura Schroff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Schroff writes of two people who would never met but for a small act of compassion that puts them both on a journey of mutual development.

Sentimental, to be sure, and certain to bring a tear to the eye, Schroff's tale of passing a young panhandler on the streets of Manhattan with little a thought, only to stop in mid street, turn around and walk back to a dirty black boy. He asks for change. She, this white woman with money and a good job, asks if he's hungry. He is. She takes him to McDonald's and buys him a meal. She eats with him. She walks to the same corner every Monday, making dinner with Maurice, who's 11, a ritual.

Her friends warn her not to get involved, but Schroff sees something in this boy. A bit of herself. A spark of ambition. A survivor. Slowly their relationship develops into one of trust.

Schroff teaches Maurice responsibility, how to act around others, how to believe in himself. He teaches her to love, trust and accept people as they are.

If I have a wee complaint about the book, it's that it tends to be repetitive. Stories what have an impact the first time they're told lose when similar stories return.

If you want to feel good about mankind, pick up this book and a tissue. It's worth the read and the cry.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour - Betsy Ashton

My incredibly talented writer friend, Maggie King, author of Murder at the Book Group, and contributor to Virginia Is for Mysteries, tossed me the baton for the Writing Process Blog Tour. Does that mean I can sit back and think cute thoughts? No, it means I have to answer four very ordinary questions.

1. What am I working on? 
Heck, how does any writer answer that question? I always have at least three works in process. Right now, my second edition in the Mad Max series is with my agent for final edits before it goes to my publisher. This one has a working title of Uncharted Territory. It's locked for now, so I turned to two other projects. I'm workshopping my serial killer psychological crime story with a few trusted beta readers, while doing a ton of research on viruses and plagues for the third Mad Max entry. Plus I charted out two novellas in the mystery/crime genre.

2. Why do I write what I write? 
I write because I breathe. It's as simple as that. I love to write about strong women who aren't cute and in their twenties. Max is in her fifties, still sexy, still rich, still interesting. The killer is younger and deeply troubled about her calling in life, which is to kill people who she feels need killing. So, I write what I want to know about, because I certainly don't have first-hand knowledge about killing people. Or do I?

3. How does my work differ from others in the genre? 
I drive my agent nuts, because my mysteries don't start with a crime. No murders, no robberies right away. I start in the main character's head and examine what makes they do what they do. So, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about the narrower rules of a genre. Psychological fiction appeals to me, the darker the better. Even when my main character isn't dark, and Max is anything but dark, I surround her with evil and conflict so that she can grow. Some readers might be disappointed because I'm not "like" <fill in the name of a prominent mystery/crime writer here>. Yup. That's true. Sobeit.

4. What is my writing process? 
I plant my butt on my ball at my desk seven days a week. Yes, I sit on a balance ball instead of in a chair. I often edit hard copy standing at my breakfast bar. I work on something, even if it's bad, every day, usually for 4-5 hours at a stroke. I treat writing as my career, which it is since I retired from earning a paycheck. I rise, shower, dress and put on makeup as if I were going to an office. Discipline keeps me focused on the job at hand, to wit, churning out words, some of which might actually work. Others might be keepers. Still others are terrific except not where they are or in the manuscript where I think they'll be perfect. No bunny slippers, no pajamas. I do take time out to feed my stuffed llama and a thread-bare bear. Otherwise, they'll eat me alive.

I'm passing the baton to Kimberly Dalferes, author of I Was In Love With A Short Man Once, Mary Billiter, author of The XYZ Affair and Susan Union, author of Rode to Death, a mystery set on a horse ranch near San Diego and is the first in the Randi Sterling Mystery Series. 

I'll let each of these ladies tell you about themselves.

I can't wait to see what each of these ladies write about. And thanks to Maggie King for inviting me to hop on this tour.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass CastleThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've read the gushing and less than gushing reviews of The Glass Castle both here and on Amazon. I fall somewhere in between.

Walls' voice is funny but it's not original. Yes, she writes with a Southern accent (without writing in dialect). It's easy to read and enjoy.

Her story, however, breaks no new ground. She calls this a memoir. As such it should be relatively truthful. As a few reviewers have mentioned, the early act of a three-year-old boiling hot dogs defies credibility. Still, it's her memory and maybe it didn't happen at three but later. Or maybe she heard enough stories about it to "remember" it herself.

Her dysfunctional family, while entertaining, is just about as dysfunctional as Frank McCourt's family in Angela's Ashes. I found myself wishing the old man would skedaddle and never come back. An amoral alcoholic father who thinks nothing of pimping out the narrator was almost enough to make me stop reading.

What made me question whether this was a novel or a memoir came when I went to Google Maps to check on the house on Little Hobart St. Walls makes a huge deal over the house, how you had to climb rotting stairs, shinny out the back window to get up the mountain behind the house. Granted in Google Maps the house is as it stands today. Brick. No steep steps from street to rotting front porch. In fact the house is at street level. No mountain behind it.

I hoped for more authenticity. Not sure if I'll read anything else by Walls except maybe a novel.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Review: The Homespun Wisdom of Myrtle T. Cribb

The Homespun Wisdom of Myrtle T. CribbThe Homespun Wisdom of Myrtle T. Cribb by Sheri Reynolds

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sheri Reynolds writes a wonderfully Southern picaresque novel where Myrtle Cribb leaves her husband without warning on a journey into herself. She's on her way to a doctor's appointment she doesn't want to keep. She passes the doctor's office before nearly running off the road. Hellcat, the local homeless man, crawled into her truck the night before. He wakes up and scares her.

Myrtle wants to dump Hellcat someplace where he can walk back to the town they live in, but every time she gets close to doing so, she chickens out. Myrtle and Hellcat help each other on this journey into what's important in their lives. Two opposites, he understands her intuitively. She grows to accept herself through a series of short adventures.

Reynolds add "Meaty Tidbits" at the end of each chapter wherein she adds philosophical comments to underscore the narrative.

If you even have a chance to hear her read, trample everyone in your way to get to one of her readings. Then read one or more of her books. Her unique Southern voice resounds off the page. You'll never read one of her books without hearing her speak.

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Book Review: The Vintage Club by Darin Gibby

The Vintage ClubThe Vintage Club by Darin Gibby

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Darin Gibby gives us a new entry into the growing corpus of Da Vinci Code novels where something from the Biblical past plays a huge role in today's world.

Do not think Gibby copied early entries in the subgenre. His The Vingage Club is a unique contribution. Take a cabal of international billionaires seeking immortality by trying to recreate the wine served at the Last Supper. Strong belief that ancient grape seeds can grow into vineyards that produce an elixir of eternal life drive this cabal to cheat, scheme and murder to keep its secret, well, secret.

When a benefactor and friend of a member of the group files a patent application that threatens the secret, people die. Another is framed.

The action is fast paced as one would expect from a thriller, yet there are small pauses for the reader to reflect and catch her breath. A quick read good for a rainy day or a sunny day. Oh, heck. This is a good read for any day.

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