Monthly Archives: August 2015

Review: MINE

A young woman whose marriage has hit a rough patch returns to her hometown and helps local authorities investigate a series of unexpected deaths.

Mine: a novella

Mine: a novella

Fiona Quinn manages to pack a lot of story into this novella without making the pacing feel rushed. Kate Hamilton, forced to leave her home in Boston due to her soldier husband’s PTSD, returns to the small Virginia town where she grew up at around the same time as her ornery Uncle Owen dies of what seems like a heart attack. Kate is there to work as a CSI intern with the local police department. Tim Gibbons, her supervisor, also happens to be her first love. He’s now married with children, but he’s still obviously attracted to her. Their history and a tangled situation with a neighbor interested in opening a lucrative mining operation mean that Kate is stepping into a snake pit of conflict and competing agendas. It’s against this chaotic background that she discovers suspicious connections between several recent deaths–including her Uncle Owen’s.

Scarborough is depicted with such detail that I felt I could locate the place on a map. All the quaint beauties of small-town life bump up against the seething resentments and never-ending feuds that often infect such insular places. The town is populated with a nice mix of expected southern characters–the rich girl whose sparkling life isn’t what it seems, the bigger-than-life politician who may or may not be for sale, the blustering high school bully who grew into a threatening schemer, the local busybody who spreads venomous rumors as unfounded as they are damaging.
Though readers will be familiar with all of these “types,” Quinn makes each one interesting and a bit more complicated than they might appear.

The romantic tension between Kate and Tim is perfectly balanced. We sense that there is something there, but this potential for sparks doesn’t undermine our belief in Kate’s feelings for or loyalty to Ryan, her troubled husband. Kate and Tim’s backstory feeds a lot of present tension. It would have been a little more exciting if we got to meet Tim’s insecure wife. She makes a brief appearance and is referred to, but that’s about it.

I’m on the fence about Quinn’s ending. I don’t want to spoil it for you. I’ll just say that I expected Kate to be the one who unveiled the killer. She closes on the How and the Why of the killings. The Who is discovered and neutralized by the least likely character in the book. Looking back, this is a clever move, as (along with Kate) we are forced to completely reevaluate our alliances. At the time I first read it, though, I felt a little cheated.
The discomfort was momentary.

MINE is a well-paced mystery packed with character and suspense.

Author Scott R. Kramer

Today author Scott R. Kramer discusses his political thriller False Pretenses.

photo of Kramer, Scott R.

Author Scott R. Kramer

Building Plot from Beginning to End
by Scott R. Kramer

I built my plot from the bottom, up. I had a story that interested me, and once I had the story, I knew how I wanted it to end.

As I started thinking about the path from beginning to end, I had to decide what characters would help me achieve my goal. Once I started writing, I tried to put myself into the story. I tried to imagine myself living the story, and watch it develop from the inside, taking the position of different characters in different scenes. That enabled the characters and story to take on a life of their own, which ultimately helped the story move in the direction that it did.

I would caution anyone wanting to write a novel (or any other piece of fiction), not to limit the characters and story line before allowing them to develop, because part of what I enjoyed most about the writing process was how they changed as the story developed.

 

False Pretenses book cover

 

About False Pretenses

A stolen election. Domestic terrorism. Extortion. Once in power, and consumed by greed, Pete Reeves will stop at nothing to have more of both. It’s a non-stop race around the world to prevent the President from going to war to further his own ambitions. Politics takes one unexpected turn after another in “False Pretenses,” the new political thriller by Scott Kramer.

Purchase False Pretenses at Amazon

False Pretenses Book Excerpt One

Lesser walked out into the room and all talking came screeching to a halt. The room got quiet and the silence was deafening. Lesser started to address the gathering. “I just got word from FOX News that, apparently, Michigan isn’t going to go to us, but rather to Reeves. If this is the case, so will the election.
“We’re trying to get some information right now that will either dispute their statement or corroborate it. All our information as of this afternoon indicated that Michigan should be ours, but in elections, anything can happen, and just might have tonight.

About Scott R. Kramer

Scott Kramer is a former investment advisor and now runs a manufacturing company. He grew up in New Jersey and has a Bachelors Degree and Masters Degree, both in finance. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children. False Pretenses is his debut political thriller.

Follow Scott on twitter: @scottrkramer

Review: MANTEQUERO

An overweight school teacher spends her Christmas holidays in Spain where she meets a mysterious man and and even more mysterious fate.

Mantequero

Mantequero

As this paranormal story is quite short, there isn’t too much I can say without spoiling it for you. June is a teacher with no social life to speak of. Fed up with being taken for granted by her slimmer sisters and needy mother, she takes off for Spain in a kind of glorious rebellion. The tiny village is just what she wanted, and she settles in for what she expects will be a relaxing and uneventful stay. Then, while losing track of time during an evening walk, she meets a gentlemen whose courtly behavior and obvious interest in her raises the possibility of romance. But this Don Juan is much more than he seems.

Twist’s writing is solid. In roughly 36 pages, she manages to make June believable and likable, and she does a wonderful job with her settings. Both June’s life in England and her time in Spain seemed real to me. Twist’s pacing is perfect. There’s just enough suspense to keep you turning the pages until that shocking final image hits you in the gut.

Though this is the first story in a series, I wouldn’t call the ending a cliffhanger. The kindle version I read included the opening of the next story. The transition between the first and second installments is smooth, and the timeline is maintained, which helps keep you oriented.

MANTEQUERO is a short, entertaining horror story that leaves you eager for more.

There’s More Than Words To A Newsletter

(Lorraine Watson’s observations on what it really takes to publish a newsletter is the first in an ongoing series of essays on  “This Literary Life”)

The owner of FollowYourLight.com, Lorraine Watson

Lorraine Watson of FollowYourLight.com

You’d think as someone who writes, putting out a newsletter would be a no-brainer.

Not so much. Great theory with zero translation into reality.

The first barrier in the way of a newsletter grew out of having been exposed to the inner workings of email marketing. It’s a numbers game. There’s a magic ratio between list size and dollars so more subscribers leads to more dollars. No matter which way I turned, someone promised 10,000 subscribers in a month, offered their winning newsletter formula, or thinly disguised sales pitches under the guise of personal stories.

All I wanted to do was really connect with people, have some conversations, and perhaps offer different views into day-to-day life. Couldn’t an email just be a good old-fashioned letter for getting to know one another when we can’t be around the same kitchen table?

I certainly wasn’t going to send something out that made my stomach turn.

The second roadblock looming in the way of a newsletter was the ever popular “I have nothing to say”. Apparently I had enough to say to write blog posts, just not a newsletter. Ahhh, so what I really meant was “I have nothing to say that is brilliantly different enough from the blog posts that is worthy of sending out on a regular basis.”

With the honesty of hindsight, what I really, REALLY meant to say was “I’ll hide pretending to be visible.” There’s a subtle difference between a blog post and a newsletter. An element of distance I suppose. The blog post’s home is out there, on a single page in the universesque vastness of the internet. Without a direct pointer, what are the chances of being seen?

But a newsletter in your inbox – there’s no hiding from that. You’re welcoming me into your personal space. Whether you choose to read or not on any given week, you still see whether or not I showed up.

Then something changed.

The desire to connect and knowing there must be a different way was outmuscling the reasons to hold back. And fortuitously, Dan Blank’s inaugural Launch Your Newsletter course appeared right at the same time. The barriers came tumbling down. He supported us in finding our way, not his way, and bringing forward our voices because we all had something to say.

Next month will see the writing of the 53rd Letters From Home – the first of a second year.

No two weeks are the same. Some weeks the words flow easily while for others each word feels like a painful struggle just to find an idea. Once I had to scrap everything and start over just minutes before hitting the send button.

I’ve given up beating on myself for not whipping out a newsletter in 15 minutes. Some people might be a whiz with the keyboard or pen, but writing for me spans a couple of hours even in the best of weeks. Each word and sentence feels like they are infused with something larger, as if capturing the ground we would travel having a conversation over a great meal followed by dessert and tea. Same for the photos included.

My list remains small, not even having reached triple digits yet. Mathematically speaking, however, the growth is almost 250% over the year. I could focus on either of those two numbers, but I chose to place greater value on a third – the richness of connections I’ve made with people literally around the world. Ten thousand faceless emails that look good in a magic formula can never replace knowing a bit about the person who left a comment or emailed a reply. I trust that in being a thoughtful guest in other people’s inboxes, the number and richness of the relationships I have will continue to grow.

A year in the life of a newsletter has brought about a number of changes – both in the newsletter and in me. The more visible and personal I become with the newsletter, so too do the connections and conversations I have with those who invited me in.

– – – – – – – – –
Lorraine is an intuitive left-brained crazy for cats and potatoes lady. More of an atypical spiritual guide than a typical coach, she’s to help you re-ignite what Lights you up inside, find clarity in who you really are, and tap into the courage to pursue that “something more to life” calling out to you. You can leave your name to be sure you receive her weekly Letters From Home newsletter.

Review: A Werewolf for Christmas

A young doctoral student recovering from setbacks in her career and love life is pursued by a werewolf who resents that she’s his natural mate.

All I Want For Christmas is a Werewolf (Changeling Encounters, #3)

All I Want For Christmas is a Werewolf

This story is the third entry in J.S. Scott’s Changeling Encounters paranormal series. It’s the most developed of the three. Both Faith and Gavin have back stories weighing on them. The romance isn’t simply a matter of the werewolf convincing the human that they are meant to be. Gavin thought he’d found his mate once before and it ended in heartache. So he hates romance and he hates Christmas.

Faith’s last lover stabbed her in the back by stealing her research and using it to get the job she wanted. Her feelings–anger, pain, distrust–are realistic. Unfortunately, Scott undermined my suspension of disbelief by not filling the situation in better. First of all, there’s no explanation of how Faith’s research was stolen. Every PhD student has an adviser and a committee overseeing their work from well before the research begins. Perhaps an adviser could steal research. But another student? Also, this “job” Faith lost out on is never specified. PhD students don’t compete for “jobs.” They battle for prestigious research fellowships, grants, and university teaching positions.

This may seem like I’m quibbling, but we’re supposed to believe this bright young woman with an advanced education is now scratching to survive. So the reason behind her problem needs to be convincing.

A good book, but a bit more research would have turned this four-star short into a five star.

Review: DANGERS OF ADOPTING A WEREWOLF

A young illustrator picking up the pieces of her life after a time of tragedy takes home a stray puppy only to discover he’s a werewolf.

The Dangers of Adopting a Werewolf (Changeling Encounters, #2)

The Dangers of Adopting a Werewolf

This is the second story in J.S. Scott’s Changeling Encounters paranormal series. I was glad to find it much better developed than MATE OF THE WEREWOLF. There’s tension from the first page as Rafe Lancaster, stays outside too long in his wolf form, is on the run from hunters. He makes himself as small as possible and hides. Zoey Hall discovers him during a walk in the woods. The tension escalates as readers wait for her to figure out what she’s brought home.

The romance develops nicely. There’s more of an arc to the relationship than in Scott’s first story. Still, by not delving deeper into Zoey’s past, the author misses an excellent opportunity to build the character.

THE DANGERS OF ADOPTING A WEREWOLF has a great premise and is an overall quick, fun read.

Meet Author ANDY MARTELLO

This is the inaugural appearance of my newest feature Meet the Author, where writers get to tell a bit about themselves and their work in their own words.

Just so happens my first victim…um…author, Las Vegas entertainer Andy Martello, appeared on this blog before. At least his book has. I reviewed The King of Casinos a while back (five stars!) and you can read that review HERE.

Author photo Andy Martello

Author and Entertainer Andy Martello

 

My genre:

I don’t really have one. The majority of the things I have written over the years have been humor, opinion, and observational commentary—all of which was primarily autobiographical. Yet, my first book was a biography/Nevada history book and my second was, of all things, a work of poetry. I suppose my genre is “The Printed Word.”

I started writing because:

I have been writing since I was a kid. Sometimes it was due to writing assignments in class, such as book reports (for books I rarely read) or essay papers on subjects I may or may not have cared about. Either way, I would use a lot of creativity in the work. You could say, my first works of fiction were trying to convince teachers I had done my homework.

One year, there was a creative writing contest with a cash prize being offered. I wrote a ridiculous but funny story about Snoopy’s dog dish (from the perspective of the dish) and I won $50. It was the first, and I assumed, last time I would ever get paid for my writing.

Best thing about being a writer:

I love telling stories well. I hope this means I am a great storyteller, but, that is not something for me to decide. When I am writing, and things are moving along to my satisfaction, there is no better feeling than the fulfillment that comes from coining a perfect phrase or conveying a thought in a manner which I like. As blasphemous as it sounds, I have never, nor do I to this day, enjoy reading. I have always been a visual person and if I cannot see something in my head as a good film or television show, it immediately gets shelved.

I have always been an imaginative person. While I know I am CLEARLY in the majority on this, even the best or most prolific writers, particularly those who write fiction, have rarely kept my attention. Reading was never anything more than a school assignment for me. I hardly ever read fiction. When I do, it is an even more rare occurrence when I finish it. When I am reading nonfiction, I need the story and facts to be presented in a manner designed to maintain interest and not to simply impart facts.

I think because I so dislike reading for recreation or other purposes (I really cannot have a discussion about ANY book you or your readers have ever raved about), I am not influenced by anyone’s style and I have my own, distinct voice. So, for me, knowing I have written something which entertains me, the most finicky of readers, I feel confident it will entertain the masses. Not that “the masses” will ever read my work. I also don’t believe anyone reads anymore, but, that is a different subject altogether.

My current favorite read:

Since I read so infrequently, I cannot offer a “current” favorite read. I can offer the best book I have read in recent memory, one I read in 2015 AND is a work of fiction, if you can believe that. The Robusta Incident by Jennifer Fales is a supremely entertaining book. I initially read it in the hopes of doing an author review exchange with her and because I have a monstrous nerd-crush on the author. Damn her for actually writing something I loved and have recommended to many others!

It is wildly funny, clever beyond it’s genre (sci-fi/horror), and Jennifer has a very male-centric writing style that made the book very appealing to me. Just as women seem to endlessly complain men cannot write female characters well, it is equally apparent women have difficulty writing believable male characters. Fales does not have this problem in The Robusta Incident. All characters, male or female are fleshed out, believable, and with their own distinct voices. Add that the book is a refreshing and original take on a zombie story (I like to think of the book as “The Walking Dead” meets “The Office”) and you have something very special in the book world. I would love to see this on screen.

Also in the “played out genre with clever new ideas category” is To Touch the Sun, by Laura Enright, another book I read hoping to simply exchange reviews which ended up making me so glad I was reading it. Her take on the vampire story is new and well-presented. The fact it is primarily set in the Chicago area, my original home, didn’t hurt my feelings any.

Other than those, my favorite reads are my next projects, my past works, and the crap I jotted down and abandoned. As I have said many times, much to the anger and dismay of readers and authors everywhere, if i didn’t write it, there is little chance I will ever read it.

ANDY’S BOOKS:

Andy Martello's biography of casino owner Willie Martello.

The King of Casinos

WINNER OF 13 AWARDS including BOOK OF THE YEAR!

The unreal but TRUE story of the unknown casino that changed Las Vegas forever!

After a horrific blaze destroyed Willie Martello’s El Rey Club in 1962, fifty years would pass before anyone knew of how that casino and one-time brothel influenced LAS VEGAS casinos, upset the mob, and inadvertently launched the career of Francis Ford Coppola.

Were it not for the chance discovery of a single photo in a Las Vegas museum, the El Rey Club would only be known as the seedy brothel where Senator Harry Reid learned to swim. Martello’s accomplishments should place him among magnates like Howard Hughes or Steve Wynn, yet very few know his name.

Featuring over 140 rare or unseen photos!

WINNER, 2014 International Book Awards & USA Best Book Awards (Best Biography)

Buy The King of Casinos at Amazon or CreateSpace

 

cover image of Andy Martello's poetry collection

Pretty Words. Nothing More: An Unlikely Book of Poetry

From the award-winning author of The King of Casinos comes a very personal work about falling in love with the wrong person.

It started out as images and thoughts shared on Facebook to deal with the pleasure and pain of falling in love, being in love, and losing love.

Before long, they were gathering likes and comments from many well-read people, and those readers were asking for more. Ultimately, the uphill battle fought while trying, and failing, to gain the attention of one specific woman, turned into a reflection and exploration of feelings about six very different, and oddly similar women.

Passionate and succinct, these short-form poems carry a lot of meaning and offer a unique perspective on a universal subject.

By design, this book is very basic and does not feature any images or frills. The sales from this book will aid in funding the publishing of “Pretty Words. So Much More.” which will feature high-quality original images and artwork from nearly 20 extremely talented, and largely unknown artists from around the United States.

An Amazon TOP 100 Book! (Love Poems)

Buy Pretty Words.  Nothing More. at Amazon or CreateSpace

CONNECT WITH ANDY!

www.facebook.com/andymartelloentertainment

www.andymartello.com

http://www.amazon.com/Andy-Martello/e/B00ITXWWGA/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

 

Review: STARTING TO FRAME

** I received a copy of this book for review.

*** A video version of this review is available HERE.

Moving memoir of a young man’s youth in Sheffield, England and his family’s struggle with divorce and mental illness.

Starting to Frame: A Memoir

Starting to Frame: A Memoir

The author is a scientist who emigrated from England to Canada in early adulthood, leaving behind a difficult childhood and troubled family. Turns out several thousand miles of ocean isn’t enough to put that past to rest.

The author does a beautiful job setting scenes. I could imagine myself in that dreary Northern England town between the 1940s and 1960s. We start in the ramshackle, mouse-infested home his family shared with his maternal grandparents. Things seem fairly normal there, though the tension between his parents simmers under the surface. Later, the family moves to a new housing estate, but their fresh start is short and painful.

Gordon portrays his parents with honesty–his father’s diffidence, his mothers erratic and explosive temper. There’s compassion as Gordon details the torturous breakdown of the marriage and the chaos that followed.

We also learn the hardships the author faced getting through university and graduate school while battling his own bouts of depression, which left him hospitalized more than once. The bigger wonder is that he managed to get into university at all. His mother paid lip service to the importance of education, but support (practical or emotional) was scarce and full of resentment.

In STARTING TO FRAME, Roger Gordon offer compelling account of a man’s struggle to build a good life on the rubble of a ruined childhood.

Review: MATE OF THE WEREWOLF

The future of a veterinarian’s wildlife sanctuary is at stake when her biggest donor, a changeling-werewolf, tries to convince her that she’s his destined mate.

Mate of the Werewolf (Changeling Encounters, #1)

Mate of the Werewolf

This story has a great premise and the bones of some interesting characters. Problem is that the author doesn’t take the time to develop either. The Amazon listing says it’s 39 pages, but the font has to be twice the standard 12-point, taking the length down to about 19 pages. Maybe. But 19 pages could be enough if Scott gave us a little more depth. Even a short story needs a little meat…a respectable beginning, middle and end. There’s no middle to this one. We never really know what billionaire Noah does that makes him so wealthy. Nor do we get to spend time watching Grace work either as a vet or at her sanctuary. The relationship develops through phone conversations that we never get to hear.

What we do get is a couple of hot sex sessions and a lot of telling versus showing.

I will say that the other two stories in the Changeling Encounters series are more developed, so maybe Scott was finding her footing here. Both THE DANGERS OF ADOPTING A WEREWOLF and ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS A WEREWOLF are worth a look. I hope Scott goes back and reworks this one, because the idea has plenty of potential.

“Consequences”

This is my second contribution to the Takkayal feature on Egyptian poet and short story writer Nada Adel Sobhi’s blog Nadaness In Motion, where she posts her work, book reviews and some of the most creative writing prompts I’ve run into. Takkayal, Arabic for “imagine,” is the name of her picture prompt series. This story follows Melody Winters, the character I introduced in my first Takkayal piece, “As Above, So Below.”  Melody is a young girl with a unique view of the world. Today’s story is based on a photograph by Egyptian photographer and Engineer Seif Talaat.

As I don’t have permission of the photographer, I’m not posting the image. You can see it on Nada’s website HERE. While you’re there, consider writing a flash fiction piece of your own. You can post it in Nada’s comment section. The flower below has nothing to do with the story. It is here simply for your viewing pleasure.

dreamstimefree_113790

 

“Consequences”

by Carrie Ann Lahain

It had happened again.

And after taking so much trouble to avoid it.

Melody Winters, overheating in her coat, clutched the leather-bound volume to her chest and knocked on the door of apartment 555. A long moment passed, then a click of a lock, and the door opened with a leisurely sweep. Mr. Hamdi smiled down at her. His thick black
reading glasses and the pen tucked behind each ear told her she’d interrupted his work.

He glanced down at the book. “My dear, have you conquered Bleak House already? I don’t know what Mr. Dickens would say to that. He did like to stretch things out, you know. Well…come inside and tell me all about it.”

“I’d like to…love to…but…” Melody looked down at her foot toeing a dent in the hall carpet.

The elderly man squinted at her. “You are dressed for the outdoors, I see. I take it your intention to avoid trouble at school has not gone as hoped?”

“I tried. Really, I did.” She’d given up a whole week of quiet lunches reading on the patch of lawn outside the school to sit in the cafeteria listening to Lizzie Samuels giggling over Albert La Roche. Correction: Awful Albert La Roche. Giggle. Giggle. Giggle. And with Mr. Tulkinghorn hounding Lady Dedlock about her secret. Melody had to sit on the book to keep from reading ahead.

“Step inside a moment and we’ll discuss this.” Mr Hamdi held the door open for her and, with a wave of his hand, directed her to his library.

The tightness in Melody’s chest loosened as soon as she entered the cozy room with its three walls of shining mahogany bookshelves that stretched floor to ceiling. The fourth wall was all windows, though they were covered by heavy drapes most of the time to protect the books from sunlight. Mr. Hamdi’s massive desk, which must have been buried a foot deep in papers, sat in front of the windows.

“I shouldn’t. Mother told me not to be a nuisance.” Melody was to return Bleak House and go straight across the street to Lizzie’s apartment to watch the latest Spiderman movie and eat popcorn.

Spiderman.

Heaven help her.

“A nuisance?” Mr. Hamdi took a seat at his desk.

“Your translation…”

“Meh. Gogol? Where is he going to go now that he’s dead?” He leaned back and rested his hands on the stack of papers nearest to him. “Remember what I told you. Everything’s been translated into everything else.”

“But you also said every translation is precious.”

“That, too. Now. What went wrong?”

“Mrs. Tate caught me reading Bleak House in her geometry class. I hate geometry.”

“It’s a good thing Pythagoras and Euclid didn’t share your disdain or where would we be?”

“With a lot more time to read.” Melody sank onto her favorite bench. The brocade cushion had a little depression she could settle herself into, like a fox curling up in his den. “Anyway, those Greek guys didn’t have Dickens.”

They also didn’t have parents like hers. When most kids did wrong, they were put under house arrest. Melody did wrong, and her parents sent her out to “spend time with her peers.”

Laughing, Mr. Hamdi shook his head. “One of a kind, little Melody. That is what you are.  Uniqueness often brings consequences.”

“Spiderman.” And giggling over Awful Albert La Roche. Melody checked her watch. “I have to go. I’m already late.”

“Not even time for tea and a bite of Halawa?”

“Not even that.” Melody could already taste what she’d miss. The hot tea flavored with mint. The tang of sesame and delightful crunch of pistachio nuts.

Tightness returned to her chest. She noticed she still held Bleak House. Rising, she put it back in its place–the bookcase closest to the door, third shelf up, right between David Copperfield and Hard Times. Mr. Hamdi shelved his books by country of origin, then author, then chronological order. An elegant system. “Thanks again for lending it to me.”

Mr. Hamdi shrugged the comment away. “What would you like to tackle next? Poetry, perhaps? A friend just sent me his new translation of some of Verlaine’s poems. It’ll be in France. Second bookcase. Fourth shelf.”

Melody hesitated. It wouldn’t do for Lizzie to catch her sneak reading poems when she was supposed to be watching Spiderman beat up bad guys. Still, she drifted to the French section. Then to the letter V. There it was. Paul Verlaine–Fifty Selected Poems. Such a slender volume.

So easily hidden.