Review: The Virtues of Oxygen, by Susan Schoenberger

About the book, The Virtues of Oxygen The Virtues of Oxygen

Paperback: 242 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (July 22, 2014)

From the award-winning author of A Watershed Year comes a heartrending story of unlikely bonds made under dire straits. Holly is a young widow with two kids living in a ramshackle house in the same small town where she grew up wealthy. Now barely able to make ends meet editing the town’s struggling newspaper, she manages to stay afloat with help from her family. Then her mother suffers a stroke, and Holly’s world begins to completely fall apart.

Vivian has lived an extraordinary life, despite the fact that she has been confined to an iron lung since contracting polio as a child. Her condition means she requires constant monitoring, and the close-knit community joins together to give her care and help keep her alive. As their town buckles under the weight of the Great Recession, Holly and Vivian, two very different women both touched by pain, forge an unlikely alliance that may just offer each an unexpected salvation.

Buy, read, and discuss The Virtues of Oxygen

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About the author, Susan Schoenberger Susan-Schoenberger_Photo-Credit-Shana-Sureck

Susan Schoenberger is the author of the award-winning debut novel A Watershed Year. Before turning her attention to writing fiction, she worked as a journalist and copyeditor for many years, most recently at The Hartford Courant and The Baltimore Sun. She currently serves as the director of communications at Hartford Seminary and teaches writing classes at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her husband and three children.

Connect with Susan

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My Thoughts

You would think that a story about a woman who spends her entire life in an iron lung would be pretty grim, but The Virtues of Oxygen is anything but. Author Susan Shoenberger gives us not only a glimpse into what is now a very rare form of disability, but also a character piece about two women who are not in competition with each other, but work as partners.

Vivian, the one in the iron lung, is the perfect example of how the internet has, and still can, change lives. We get her backstory as a series of unaired podcasts, flashbacks into the life of a once boisterous and vibrant child, whose mind was both a blessing and a curse for much of her life.

Holly is not in an iron lung, but circumstance has given her a life almost as limited as Vivian’s. The death of her husband, the economic recession – both have conspired against her, to the point where she’s in danger of losing her house, when we first meet her.

Together, these two women move from companions to friends to a sort of chosen family, as each learns more about the other and herself, and opens herself enough to both give and receive assistance, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or financial.

Yes, there are other characters in the novel, but all revolve around these two strong personalities, Vivian and Holly. Holly and Vivian.

I’ll confess that while I’ve never been as close to Holly was at homelessness, I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck in a society where even those of us who would normally be considered upper-middle-class are sometimes one or two paychecks away from foreclosure.

I’ll also confess that Vivian made such an impression on me that I spent no small amount of time on Google, reading about real women who lived in iron lungs after being stricken by polio, including the woman whose story actually inspired Shoenberger to write this novel.

The Virtues of Oxygen is a gripping read, and the ending, while somewhat predictable, is also true to the characters the author created. It’s also the ending I wanted them to have, one filled with the easy breath of hope.

Goes well with Bacon, eggs, and a toasted English muffin, eaten at a local diner.

TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, including the complete tour schedule, click HERE.

Review: The Captive, by Grace Burrowes

About the book, The Captive The Captive

Christian Severn, Duke of Mercia, is captured out of uniform by the French, and is thus subject to torture. Christian does not break, not once, and is released when Toulouse falls. Back in England, Christian has great difficulty taking up the reins of his life until Gillian, Countess of Windmere, a relation of his late wife, pointedly reminds him that he has a daughter who still needs him very much—a daughter who no longer speaks. Gilly pushes, pulls, and drags Christian back to life, and slowly, she and he admit an attraction to each other.

Christian offers Gilly marriage, but Gilly is a widow, and has fared badly at the hands of her first husband. Gillian will not pledge her heart to a man bent on violence, for Christian cannot give up his determination to extract revenge from his torturer. What will it take for them to give up their stubborn convictions and choose each other over the bonds the past?

Buy, read, and discuss The Captive

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About the author, Grace Burrowes Grace Burrowes

Grace says, “I am the sixth out of seven children and was raised in the rural surrounds of central Pennsylvania. Early in life I spent a lot of time reading romance novels and riding a chubby buckskin gelding named—unimaginatively if eponymously—Buck. I also spent a lot of time practicing the piano. My first career was as a technical writer and editor, a busy profession that nonetheless left enough time to read many, many romance novels.”

“It also left time to grab a law degree through an evening program, produce Beloved Offspring (only one, but she is a lion), and eventually move to the lovely Maryland countryside.”

“While reading yet still more romance novels (there is a trend here) I opened my own law practice, acquired a master’s degree in Conflict Management (I had a teenage daughter by then) and started thinking about writing…. romance novels. This aim was realized when Beloved Offspring struck out into the Big World a few years ago. (“Mom, why doesn’t anybody tell you being a grown-up is hard?”)”

“I eventually got up the courage to start pitching manuscripts to agents and editors. The query letter that resulted in “the call” started out: “I am the buffoon in the bar at the RWA retreat who could not keep her heroines straight, could not look you in the eye, and could not stop blushing—and if that doesn’t narrow down the possibilities, your job is even harder than I thought.” (The dear lady bought the book anyway.)”

Connect with Grace

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I’m not really a big romance reader. And I’m really not a big historical romance reader. Nevertheless, when the pitch to review The Captive arrived in my inbox, I was feeling like I should broaden my horizons a little. Besides, I’ve always maintained that what matters is the quality of the storytelling.

In this case, I was pleasantly surprised. Grace Burrowes writes historical romance that feels contemporary. She’s an amazing storyteller, and has created characters I wouldn’t mind sitting down to tea with, and a world I wouldn’t necessarily want to live in, but wouldn’t mind visiting for a few days.

I liked that she made Gilly strong and feisty while still keeping her true to the historical era of the story, and I liked that Christian was a single father, and was forced to actually address that state of affairs.

I’m always going to prefer more contemporary stories, but if all historical romances were as delightful as Grace Burrowes’s The Captive I’d consider reading period pieces of this ilk a little more often.

Goes well with a turkey taco salad and fresh limeade.

Book Blast: Time of Possession, by Jami Davenport

Time of Possession – Week Blitz
By Jami Davenport
Seattle Lumberjacks #5
Contemporary Romance
Date Published: June 30, 2014

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Supposedly undersized for the NFL, Brett Gunnels went off to do a stint in the US Army right out of high school. Returning damaged yet stronger and more determined than ever to prove himself, he was picked last in the draft. Mr. Irrelevant, they called him. The last few years as a backup quarterback have given him no opportunity to compete for the starting job. That’s why he has a chip on his shoulder the size of Puget Sound.
Estelle Harris is engaged to a man she doesn’t love, working a job she hates, and fooling everyone including herself in the process. Her love of animals is the only thing that gives her purpose—a love she shares the Lumberjacks’ reclusive quarterback. And then their mutual friendship turns a hot, dark, forbidden corner and there’s no going back.
True love is like football. It’s not always how long you have the ball. It’s what you do when you get it.
About the Author: Jami Davenport

An advocate of happy endings, Jami Davenport writes sexy romantic comedy, sports hero romances, and equestrian fiction. Jami lives on a small farm near Puget Sound with her Green Beret-turned-plumber husband, a Newfoundland cross with a tennis ball fetish, a prince disguised as an orange tabby cat, and an opinionated Hanoverian mare.
Jami works in IT for her day job and is a former high school business teacher and dressage rider. In her spare time, she maintains her small farm and socializes whenever the opportunity presents itself. An avid boater, Jami has spent countless hours in the San Juan Islands, a common setting in her books. In her opinion, it is the most beautiful place on earth.


Buy Links

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Review: Painting the Moon, by Traci Borum

About the book Painting the Moon Painting the Moon

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Release Date: June 7, 2014
Pages: 300

When Noelle Cooke inherits a cottage from her British aunt, she also inherits a cottage full of secrets–a locked room, an old journal, an art gallery in financial ruin. Noelle never planned to abandon her life in San Diego, never intended to move across the ocean to live in a tiny Cotswold village. But the idea becomes irresistible, especially with the possibility of saving the gallery.

And just when Noelle settles into her new village life and starts to discover the cottage’s mysteries, someone from her past reappears—her first love, Adam Spencer. But an impossible barrier stands between them, and Noelle is forced to make a choice. Will she risk her heart? Or will she walk away…and lose him all over again?

Buy, read, and discuss Painting the Moon

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About the author, Traci Borum Traci Borum

Traci Borum is a writing teacher and native Texan. She’s also an avid reader of women’s fiction, most especially Elin Hilderbrand and Rosamunde Pilcher novels. Since the age of 12, she’s written poetry, short stories, magazine articles, and novels.

Traci also adores all things British. She even owns a British dog (Corgi) and is completely addicted to Masterpiece Theater-must be all those dreamy accents! Aside from having big dreams of getting a book published, it’s the little things that make her the happiest: deep talks with friends, a strong cup of hot chocolate, a hearty game of fetch with her Corgi, and puffy white Texas clouds always reminding her to “look up, slow down, enjoy your life.”

Connect with Traci

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My Thoughts

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from the author of this novel, asking me if I’d consider it for review. Her email was so sweet, and her bio resonated so much with me, that there was no way I could say no. Besides, I’ve been reading so much heavy, serious fiction – which I love – that it’s nice to review something a bit lighter from time to time. Painting the Moon came into my life exactly when I needed it, and I stayed up all night because I was so absorbed with the story.

On the surface, it’s a somewhat predictable “twinkling brown eyes” novel – cute English village, American relative inheriting adorable cottage, handsome and mostly-single male childhood friend looking to reconnect – but that’s just the surface. Author Borum takes those elements and really makes them sing with vivid descriptions of people and places – I could taste the shepherd’s pie, smell the paint on the canvas, feel the English rain – and I could also hear the characters’ distinct voices, especially Noelle herself, but also the pub owner and the gardener/handyman.

One thing I particularly loved about this novel was the use of Nioelle’s aunt’s (well, great aunt, but why be picky) advice on painting at the head of the chapters. It really made you feel like the aunt was a character in the story, rather than just a reason for Noelle to move from San Diego to the Cotswolds.

Painting the Moon is a fabulously entertaining story about love, art, and the choices we make as adults, and should not be overlooked. It’s the perfect novel for a lazy summer afternoon. If there’s a thunderstorm brewing while you read it, so much the better.

Goes well with hot tea and peach-rhubarb pie.

Review: the New Men, by Jon Enfield

About the book, The New Men The New Men

Publisher: Wayzgoose Press (May 14, 2014)
Print Length: 303 pages

For us, the new man, he is one of two things. First, he is the new worker, a man we instruct and investigate until his probation is complete. But also he is an idea. In the foundry, they make parts. On the line, they make autos. But in Sociological, we make men.

Tony Grams comes to America at the start of the twentieth century, set on becoming a new man. Driven to leave poverty behind, he lands a job at the Ford Motor Company that puts him at the center of a daring social and economic experiment.

The new century and the new auto industry are bursting with promise, and everyone wants Henry Ford’s Model T. But Ford needs men to make it. Better men. New men. Men tough enough and focused enough to handle the ever-bigger, ever-faster assembly line. Ford offers to double the standard wage for men who will be thrifty, sober, and dedicated… and who will let Ford investigators into their homes to confirm it.

Tony has just become one of those investigators. America and Ford have helped him build a new life, so at first he’s eager to get to work. But world war, labor strife, and racial tension pit his increasingly powerful employer against its increasingly desperate enemies.

As Tony and his family come under threat from all sides and he faces losing everything he’s built, he must struggle with his conscience and his weaknesses to protect the people he loves.

Buy, read, and discuss The New Men

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About the author, Jon Enfield Jon Enfield

Jon Enfield has written for a range of audiences and publications. His work has appeared in Conjunctions, Poetry Ireland Review, Underground Voices, Xavier Review, and He is a former fiction editor of Chicago Review, and he taught writing at the University of Southern California for several years. He received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago for his dissertation on the relationships between American film and fiction 1910-1940.

The New Men arose from his longstanding fascination with America in the early twentieth century and from his sense that the emergence and evolution of the American auto industry shed light on some fundamental realities of present-day America.

Connect with Jon


My Thoughts

I was a bit concerned when I agreed to review this book. I mean, the concept and plot sounded interesting, but it had the potential to be a lot dryer than I typically prefer. I’ve never been more pleased to be proven wrong.

From the opening notes, where author Jon Enfield warns us about specific spelling and dialogue choices to the very last page, I was never bored. In fact, it would be fair to say that I was riveted, because I read this book last weekend, cover to cover, in one night.

We often hear about the concept of a “company town,” and I’ve certainly experienced a few: Marshalltown, IA, for example, is pretty much dominated by Fisher, and my husband and I worked in the Sioux Falls, SD campus of Gateway, back when they were a new-ish corporation. In The New Men, however, Enfield shows us the best and worst of company town culture – the progressive programs put in place to create the perfect workers, and the strictures that came with working for such a business.

After spending roughly half of the last decade doing corporate blogging for auto sales and auto insurance companies, it was incredibly interesting to me to see, in this novel, how the industry began, and to reflect upon the way it’s changed. Through his protagonist, Tony, and through all the other characters in The New Men Enfield shows us, not just a version of what was, but lets us glimpse what could have been, as well.

Sometimes gritty, sometimes poignant – often at the same time – The New Men is a period piece that manages to comment on contemporary culture without feeling as if it’s doing so. Taken as pure fiction, however, it’s a compelling story about people who aren’t that different than most of our grandparents. If you want something a bit toothier than typical summer fare, this novel is an excellent choice.

Goes well with Baked ziti, garlic bread, and a huge salad with fresh tomatoes.

TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, and the complete list of tour stops, click HERE.

NetGalley Wrapup – 2014 First Half – Volume I

At the urging of one of the blog tour companies I work with, I signed up for an account with NetGalley earlier this year. This allows publishers to send me widgets for the books I’ve agreed to review, so I can download them straight to my kindle. It also allows me to leave feedback – usually a few good lines from my review and a link to the rest – directly for the publisher.

I’ve been reading like crazy all year – as I always do – but I’m a little behind on reviews that are NOT for tours – so here’s my NetGalley wrapup for titles I’ve read in the first half of 2014 that do NOT have separate review pages in this blog.

Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski Don't Even Think About It

I always love Sarah Mlynowski’s work and this is no exception. She’s funny, smart, and her characters – teens in this case – are always believable, although they tend to occupy a slightly heightened reality. Great work, great read.

The Art of Arranging Flowers, by Lynne Branard The Art of Arranging Flowers

If you, like me, have ever spent your last ten dollars on fresh flowers when you should have spent it on milk or bread, you will love this novel. It’s a delightful human story about relationships, loves, and lives, and of course flowers. Mix in a little bit of magical realism, and you have a bouquet of compelling storytelling wrapped in raffia. READ THIS BOOK

Dangerous Dream: A Beautiful Creatures Story, by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl Dangerous Dream

I hadn’t read the books, but only seen the movie, when I read Dangerous Dream. Nevertheless, I was sucked into this richly created world and enjoyed finding out what happened next with the characters. It made me buy the books, for a better understanding of what had come before. It may be YA, but it appeals to all ages.

All of the above books are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Review: Love & Treasure, by Ayelet Waldman

About the book, Love & Treasure Love & Treasure

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Knopf (April 1, 2014)

A spellbinding new novel of contraband masterpieces, tragic love, and the unexpected legacies of forgotten crimes, Ayelet Waldman’s Love and Treasure weaves a tale around the fascinating, true history of the Hungarian Gold Train in the Second World War.

In 1945 on the outskirts of Salzburg, victorious American soldiers capture a train filled with unspeakable riches: piles of fine gold watches; mountains of fur coats; crates filled with wedding rings, silver picture frames, family heirlooms, and Shabbat candlesticks passed down through generations. Jack Wiseman, a tough, smart New York Jew, is the lieutenant charged with guarding this treasure—a responsibility that grows more complicated when he meets Ilona, a fierce, beautiful Hungarian who has lost everything in the ravages of the Holocaust. Seventy years later, amid the shadowy world of art dealers who profit off the sins of previous generations, Jack gives a necklace to his granddaughter, Natalie Stein, and charges her with searching for an unknown woman—a woman whose portrait and fate come to haunt Natalie, a woman whose secret may help Natalie to understand the guilt her grandfather will take to his grave and to find a way out of the mess she has made of her own life.

A story of brilliantly drawn characters—a suave and shady art historian, a delusive and infatuated Freudian, a family of singing circus dwarfs fallen into the clutches of Josef Mengele, and desperate lovers facing choices that will tear them apart—Love and Treasure is Ayelet Waldman’s finest novel to date: a sad, funny, richly detailed work that poses hard questions about the value of precious things in a time when life itself has no value, and about the slenderest of chains that can bind us to the griefs and passions of the past.

Buy, read, and discuss Love & Treasure

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About the author, Ayelet Waldman Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman is the author of the recently released Love and Treasure (Knopf, April 2014), Red Hook Road and The New York Times bestseller Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. Her novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was adapted into a film called “The Other Woman” starring Natalie Portman. Her personal essays and profiles of such public figures as Hillary Clinton have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Vogue, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Her radio commentaries have appeared on “All Things Considered” and “The California Report.” Her books are published throughout the world, in countries as disparate as England and Thailand, the Netherlands and China, Russia and Israel, South Korea and Italy.

Connect with Ayelet

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My Thoughts

You wouldn’t think that a novel that spends fully half it’s pages dealing with the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust could be magical and amazing, but Ayelet Waldman’s Love & Treasure manages to be so.

To be clear, those magical moments come between a lot of candid, even gritty, scenes. The first half of the book is the story of Jack Wiseman, an ethnic Jew and American soldier, in Europe at the end of World War II. Largely due to circumstance he is put in charge of a warehouse which holds the contents of a train, which, in turn, was full of the stolen, stripped down belongings – everything from ceramics to jewelry to bed linens to art – of Hungarian Jews who were either sent to concentration camps or sent to forced labor camps by the Nazis.

The second half of the book is mostly the story of Jack’s granddaughter Natalie, and her quest to fulfill her grandfather’s dying wish: track down the owner of a necklace he took from the warehouse, and return it. To do this, she travels to Europe and Israel, hooking up with an art dealer named Amitai who operates just at the surface, or maybe slightly below, the law. He isn’t a bad person, but he doesn’t make high-percentage choices. Also, he’s not that interested in the necklace – he’s trying to track down a painting done by the same artist. (He is, however, increasingly interested in Natalie.)

The problem is that Natalie’s story, which I referred to as the second ‘half,’ ends in such a way that it feels like an ending, but there’s a third part of the story, the history of the necklace’s original owner.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved learning the story of the necklace, loved a glimpse into early twentieth century feminism in Europe, it just felt like the novel would have been even more magical and amazing than it already is if Jack had been part one, Natalie had been part two, and the rest had been woven through in bits and glimpses.

But that’s me, who sometimes likes books to be ideally structured even though life never actually is, and the reality is that this minor structural issue didn’t detract from the story in any way. Jack’s section is heartbreaking, Natalie’s is a grand adventure, and all the rest? Quiet magic and amazing history.

Is this a beach read? Maybe not.
But it’s a great book for a lazy summer Sunday.

Goes well with: Organic eggs scrambled with spinach, salmon and cream cheese, a toasted bagel with butter, and a few chunks of really ripe cantaloupe.

TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, and the complete list of tour stops, click HERE.

Review: A Case of Spontaneous Combustion (Displaced Detective #5), by Stephanie Osborn

About the book, A Case of Spontaneous Combustion A Case of Spontaneous Combustion

Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Print Length: 344 pages

When an entire village on the Salisbury Plain is wiped out in an apparent case of mass spontaneous combustion, Her Majesty’s Secret Service contacts The Holmes Agency to investigate. Unfortunately Sherlock Holmes and his wife, Dr. Skye Chadwick-Holmes, have just had their first serious fight, over her abilities and attitudes as an investigator. To make matters worse, he is summoned to England in the middle of the night, and she is not — and due to the invocation of the National Security Act in the summons, he cannot even wake her and tell her.

Once in London, Holmes looks into the horror that is now Stonegrange. His investigations take him into a dangerous undercover assignment in search of a possible terror ring, though he cannot determine how a human agency could have caused the disaster. There, he works hard to pass as a recent immigrant and manual laborer from a certain rogue Mideastern nation as he attempts to uncover signs of the terrorists.

Meanwhile, alone in Colorado, Skye battles raging wildfires and tames a wild mustang stallion, all while believing her husband has abandoned her.

Who — or what — caused the horror in Stonegrange? Will Holmes find his way safely through the metaphorical minefield that is modern Middle Eastern politics? Will Skye subdue Smoky before she is seriously hurt? Will this predicament seriously damage — even destroy — the couple’s relationship? And can Holmes stop the terrorists before they unleash their outré weapon again?

Buy, read, and discuss A Case of Spontaneous Combustion

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Please note: at this time, this title is only available in digital formats. A print edition is planned.

About the author, Stephanie Osborn Stephanie Osborn

Veteran of more than 20 years in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs, she worked on numerous space shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Her space experience also includes Spacelab and ISS operations, variable star astrophysics, Martian aeolian geophysics, radiation physics, and nuclear, biological, and
chemical weapons effects.

Stephanie holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences:
astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics, and she is “fluent” in several
more, including geology and anatomy.

In addition she possesses a license of ministry, has been a duly sworn, certified police officer, and is a National Weather Service certified storm spotter.

Her travels have taken her to the top of Pikes Peak, across the world’s highest suspension bridge, down gold mines, in the footsteps of dinosaurs, through groves of giant Sequoias, and even to the volcanoes of the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest, where she was present for several phreatic eruptions of Mount St. Helens.

Now retired from space work, Stephanie has trained her sights on writing. She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to more than 20 books, including the celebrated science-fiction mystery, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. She is the co-author of the “Cresperian Saga,” book series, and currently writes the critically acclaimed “Displaced Detective” series, described as “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files.” She recently released the paranormal/horror novella El Vengador, based on a true story, as an ebook.

In addition to her writing work, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery now happily “pays it forward,” teaching math and science through numerous media including radio, podcasting and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science-fiction think tank.

The Mystery continues.

Connect with Stephanie

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My Thoughts

Sherlock Holmes and Skye Chadwick-Holmes are back in the fifth installment of Stephanie Osborn’s fabulously entertaining Displaced Detective series, and while this story is complete in one volume (unlike the others which were pairs of companion stories), it feels just as meaty and satisfying as its predecessors.

What I really love about this series is that Osborn bases her mysteries in real (if sometimes theoretical) science, and that she relays the science in ways that are easy for people like me, who were music and theater majors, to understand. From the moment the mass disappearance (death) of an entire town was described, I was able to make reasonably accurate guesses about the technology that caused it, but this in no way spoiled the story, because knowing the cause wasn’t enough, the real mystery was as much in the “why” as in the “how.”

As well, I love that, a year into their marriage, Skye and Sherlock are evolving as individuals and as a couple. While they are separated from each other for much of this story, when they do come together, the reasons for their separation explained, we see two people who have become better because of their relationship. Anyone can write “falling in love” reasonably well. Writing about a couple who can stay in love takes finesse, which Osborn has in great amounts.

Over the last several years, Sherlock Holmes has been reintroduced to us in many, many guises, and the beauty of the character is that there’s room for every version, and enjoying one doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy others. Regular visitors to this blog know that I’m a massive fan of Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell series, and that I especially love that she’s incorporated early feminism and the art culture of the early twentieth century into her work.

This doesn’t mean that I like Osborn’s work any less. In fact, I think these two series make really good bookshelf buddies, because both give us a glimpse at Holmes as a married man, and both do it in unique ways.

Back to Stephanie Osborn’s latest offering, though, I’ll confess that at one point I, who was an original viewer of Sex and the City felt that Skye and Sherlock’s relationship was a bit too restrained, even when they were out of the public eye, until Skye herself reminded one of their friends, and we readers as well, that Holmes is from a more restrained time and culture. It’s worth noting, also, that the relationship they have is absolutely true to the characters Osborn has created, and that these are genre-defying science-fiction/mysteries and not romance novels.

While A Case of Spontaneous Combustion is best enjoyed after reading books 1-4 of the Displaced Detective series, fast reads all, it also has enough backstory to be a satisfying standalone.

Goes well with: Falafel, with extra-garlicky tahini sauce, tart strained yogurt and cucumbers, and a side of tabouleh, with mint tea.

Review: Supreme Justice, by Max Allan Collins

About the book, Supreme Justice Supreme Justice

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (July 1, 2014)
Pages: 338

A new standalone thriller from the creator of The Road to Perdition and the Nathan Heller series.

After taking a bullet for his commander-in-chief, Secret Service agent Joseph Reeder is a hero. But his outspoken criticism of the president he saved—who had stacked the Supreme Court with hard-right justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, amp up the Patriot Act, and shred the First Amendment—put Reeder at odds with the Service’s apolitical nature, making him an outcast.

FBI agent Patti Rogers finds herself paired with the unpopular former agent on a task force investigating the killing of Supreme Court Justice Henry Venter. Reeder—nicknamed “Peep” for his unparalleled skills at reading body language—makes a startling discovery while reviewing a security tape: the shooting was premeditated, not a botched robbery. Even more chilling, the controversial Venter may not be the only justice targeted for death…

Is a mastermind mounting an unprecedented judicial coup aimed at replacing ultra-conservative justices with a new liberal majority? To crack the conspiracy and save the lives of not just the justices but also Reeder’s own family, rising star Rogers and legendary investigator Reeder must push their skills—and themselves—to the limit.

Buy, read, and discuss Supreme Justice

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About the author, Max Allan Collins Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins has earned fifteen Private Eye Writers of America “Shamus” nominations, winning for his Nathan Heller novels, True Detective and Stolen Away, and receiving the PWA life achievement award, the Eye.

His graphic novel, Road to Perdition, the basis for the Academy Award–winning film starring Tom Hanks, was followed by two novels, Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise. His suspense series include Quarry, Nolan, Mallory, and Eliot Ness, and his numerous comics credits include the syndicated Dick Tracy and his own Ms. Tree.

He has written and directed four feature films and two documentaries. His other produced screenplays include The Expert, an HBO World Premiere, and The Last Lullaby. His coffee-table book The History of Mystery received nominations for every major mystery award and Men’s Adventure Magazines won the Anthony.

Collins lives in Muscatine, Iowa, with his wife, writer Barbara Collins. They have collaborated on seven novels and are currently writing the Trash ‘n’ Treasures mysteries.

My Thoughts

It was a bit weird reading this novel even as the real-world conservative-dominated SCOTUS is chipping away at women’s rights, voting rights, and the separation between church and state. In fact, at times I felt myself wishing that there actually was a conspiracy to replace the conservatives on the bench. But aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

Both of the main characters were fascinating, dimensional people, and the dialogue throughout the book as as snappy as Aaron Sorkin ever wrote on The West Wing. Collins has written for the screen before, and it shows, because Supreme Justice feels like it would translate really well to television (HBO, maybe?) or film.

A gripping plot, fantastic characters, and well-paced action all combine to give the reader a satisfying, suspense-filled experience.

Goes well with a juicy steak, a baked potato, and a craft beer.

TLC Book Tours

This review is based on an ARC provided by TLC Book Tours, and is part of a blog tour they organized. For more information, including the complete list of tour stops, click HERE.

In their Words: Interview with Anna Castle

Murder by Misrule

Last month, I reviewed Anna Castle’s historical mystery Murder by Misrule. Anna was kind enough to also grant me an interview, which we conducted via email. As you can see, she’s funny, interesting, and as unique as the book (series, actually) she’s created.

Melissa A. Bartell (MAB): Before we talk about your novel Murder by Misrule, let us get to know you. If you had to pick an historical figure to represent every 5-7 years of your life, who would they be and why?

Anna Castle (ANNA): This question is too hard for me! First, I’m not a navel-gazer; there are a hundred things I would rather think about than my personal history. Second, as a writer of historical fiction, it’s my job to uncover the complex layers of the people of the past, not to sum them up with short labels.

Anna Castle

It does sound like a fun game to play with the clan after Thanksgiving dinner, though. You could put historical figures on cards and let people draw one and decide who it matched, at what period of their life. (OK, I’m going to patent that idea, but I’ll split it with you, since it was your question.)


MAB: What draws you to historical fiction? What draws you to write at all?

ANNA: The time-traveling: writing stories is my way of working through the past and figuring out how a person could live and work and play back then and over there.

As for writing, when it’s going well, it’s the most fun thing there is. It’s like building and exploring at the same time, without any sharp things nicking your fingers or clouds of mosquitos swarming around your head.


MAB: You chose Francis Bacon as the lead in your novel; what about his story made you want to put him in a mystery?

ANNA: He’s the natural choice. Bacon was the most articulate advocate of inductive reasoning: study the facts, formulate a hypothesis, test, and refine.

He didn’t actually do much in the way of either scientific or criminal investigation, but he spent a lot of time thinking and writing about how such investigations ought best to be pursued.

All I do is put him on task by giving him urgent problems to solve.


MAB: There’s a big difference between contemporary Texas and Elizabethan England. What challenged you the most in creating your version of that period?

ANNA: The weather! Summer in Texas lasts from May through October. It seldom snows in Austin. We do not have fog. We rarely get that chilly drizzle that is so typical of English weather, nor that sweet, soft, delicious spring rain. Love that rain! Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the summer sun; maybe made cats and Texans go out in the winter rain.

One of the main reasons I go there is to inhabit their climate, see where the sun stands and how the wind blows. It surprises me every time that I can walk outdoors in a wool sweater in June and not be hot. I’ve even gotten sunburned in England! Who’d’ve thunk it?

MAB: Were there any cultural similarities that surprised you when you were doing research? If so, what?

ANNA: Not so much. Sixteenth century England is the root of both our cultures, after all. I’m as much like the people of Bacon’s time as a modern Englishwoman; more, maybe, in terms of dialect. I’m there to study the past, so I only pay enough attention to contemporary culture to keep from getting run over by a bus.

It does seem to me that English and American cultures are in many ways reconverging, since we swim in the same big media pool. I am sometimes surprised by the depth of familiarity with American history that crops up in British television. Like one detective saying to the other, “Houston, we have a problem,” or “Not quite ‘How did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?’” Tiny bits, but ubiquitous.

Murder by Misrule

MAB: This novel is set in the period of Misrule. Tell us a bit about that, and why you picked it as the perfect time of year for a murder mystery?

ANNA: I remember thinking of the first murder as a demented chase scene through the yew labyrinth in the Queen’s garden, drunken retainers from a pageant at the nearby Accession Day festivities chasing a sore-footed barrister. I liked the topsy-turviness of that scene. It got cut somewhere around draft 3, but it was the seed from which the rest of the story sprang.

I connected it to Gray’s Inn when I learned that they used to make a big deal of the season of Misrule. Young law students were obliged to remain in residence over the Christmas break, both to keep them from coming back late for the January term and to give them some of the social polish their parents expected them to acquire.

These restless young gentlemen had to be entertained. Why not bump a few of them off to make things more interesting?


MAB: Aside from Francis Bacon, do you have a favorite character in your novel? If so, who, and why?

ANNA: I love all my characters, even the villains. Even the walk-ons and the snivelly ass-kissers. So I don’t have a favorite, but I do have an avatar, so to speak — Mrs. Anabel Sprye. She’s me, which is why she’s writing a book.


MAB: Is there a specific scene in the novel that you’re particularly proud or fond of? Can you share it with us?

ANNA: This is one of those questions that’s easy to pose and impossible to answer. Pick a scene, any scene — I sweat them all. Far easier to point out the scenes that fell short of my grandiose dreams, but that would be foolish and self-defeating and we don’t go there.

MAB: Francis Bacon spends a lot of time reading. Similarly, the writers of our own time are also readers. What are some of your favorite books and authors? What are you reading now?

ANNA: All writers are readers first. If not, they shouldn’t be writing.

On my desk at this moment: John W. Weatherford, Crime and Punishment in the England of Shakespeare and Milton (proof that I couldn’t invent anything half as wacky as the truth); Anthony Esler, The Aspiring Mind of the Elizabethan Younger Generation (a fascinating if somewhat strained 60′s psychological analysis of my main guys); and my Kindle, on which I’m reading Eric Mayer & Mary Reed’s 10 for Dying; Katie Graykowski’s Perfect Summer; and Shakespeare’s Works.

MAB: What’s a typical day in the life of Anna Castle? Take us through one.

ANNA: I get up a little after daylight and screw around on the net for 30 minutes or so while drinking that all-important first cup of coffee. Then I write through lunch. Then I do chores or similar, go to the gym, come back and do writing biz for as long as it takes. And then my day is done.

Sometimes I break early to have lunch with a friend, which I like better than going out for dinner. Sometimes I blow it all off and go hiking.

MAB: Writing can be a solitary activity. How do you deal with it?

ANNA: Writing is most assuredly a solitary activity. That’s one of the things we like about it. If we wanted a busy environment, we would get jobs. I like the solitude. I like the silence. I like living in the past inside my head.

MAB: What advice would present-day Anna give to her sixteen-year-old self?

ANNA: Do not smoke that cigarette.

MAB: Will there be more Francis Bacon mysteries? What’s next for you?

ANNA: There will indeed be more. Book 2 is due to my editor on Sunday. Plot-a-thon for book 3 is slated for August, but probably going to get slipped to September because I think book 2 needs a lot of editing. Then again, I always think that at this stage.

I have another series of humorous regional modern mysteries in the sub-genre formerly known as ‘cozy’ which I plan to launch sometime in the coming year, as soon as I can think of a tagline that doesn’t sound like Prince’s new name.

And there are short stories leaping up and down in the back of my mind clamoring for attention. I’m looking forward to getting back into my newly rehabbed house and writing up a perfect storm.

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