Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Category: Artdog Book Review

Header images for the three Weird Blog articles described in this post show book covers for nonfiction books "Sedition Hunters" by Ryan J. Reilly, "Burnout," by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, and "Why Does my Cat Do that?" by Catherine Davidson; a design by Erin Phillips that says, “Feed an author. Leave a Review. It takes five minutes and helps more than you can imagine. (from) Erin Phillips.me.”; and a montage of four covers representing books by two authors: By Jodi Burnett, "Extraction" and "Corruption." By Travis Baldree, "Legends & Lattes" and "Bookshops & Bonedust."

Recent Posts on The Weird Blog

The realities of SEO searchability have forced a change in how I’ve handled recent posts on The Weird Blog and here on Artdog Adventures. Unfortunately, Artdog got the shorter, messier end of that stick.

This blog, however, has been my “home blog” for a long time. I want to keep it current for the moments when my opinion pieces are a bit too “political” for my partner! 😊 And I’d like to keep you better in the loop, if you’re a loyal subscriber. To that end, I thought you might like some glimpses of recent posts on The Weird Blog that I am no longer able to share in full here.

This square image has a black background. The words are at the center, surrounded by a design of stars and dots. The words say, “Feed an author. Leave a Review. It takes five minutes and helps more than you can imagine. (from) Erin Phillips.me.”
Courtesy of Erin Phillips via Rebecca’s Write Inspirations (see Credits below).

Recent Book Reviews

I figured out what my New Year’s Resolution needed to be when I looked back over my recent book reviews from 2023. I only wrote eleven! Book reviews are essential for authors, so I decided that I must do better than that, if I’m going to ask my own readers to write reviews for me. Since I am reading many things every day, whether it’s fiction or fact, I have no excuse. Here’s how I formed my resolution to write more reviews.

This square image shows the covers of the three books featured in the blog post “Three Nonfiction Book Reviews,” by Jan S. Gephardt, published on “The Weird Blog,” 1/17/2024. The covers, L-R are those of: Ryan J. Reilly’s book “Sedition Hunters: How January 6th Broke the Justice System,” “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle” by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski DMA, and Catherine Davidson’s book “Why does my CAT do that? Answers to 50 Questions Cat Lovers Ask,” on a background that is a blend of the covers’ colors. Montage design by Jan S. Gephardt.
See Credits Below.

Three Nonfiction Book Reviews

In my first January post, I talked about book reviews that I have (and more importantly have not) written in 2023. At the end of that post I made writing more book reviews a New Year’s resolution. This post is my first installment toward making good on that resolution. In it I share three nonfiction book reviews, written either in 2023 or – a true start on my resolution – in 2024.

The covers of the four books reviewed in the blog post overlap each other slightly in a grouping around the central area of this square montage. The books represented are upper and lower left, “Extraction” and “Corruption,” both by Jodi Burnett. At upper and lower right are “Legends & Lattes” and “Bookshops & Bonedust,” by Travis Baldree.
Cover images courtesy of Amazon. (See Credits below).

A Post Full of Page-Turners

Rounding out my list of recent posts on The Weird Blog, how about a post full of page-turners? Book reviews have been the theme of the month. But fiction is my particular wheelhouse, and it’s the core business of Weird Sisters Publishing. So how about some fiction reviews? But not just any fiction. As promised above, it’s a post full of page-turners.

Header images for the three Weird Blog articles described in this post show book covers for nonfiction books "Sedition Hunters" by Ryan J. Reilly, "Burnout," by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, and "Why Does my Cat Do that?" by Catherine Davidson; a design by Erin Phillips that says, “Feed an author. Leave a Review. It takes five minutes and helps more than you can imagine. (from) Erin Phillips.me.”; and a montage of four covers representing books by two authors: By Jodi Burnett, "Extraction" and "Corruption." By Travis Baldree, "Legends & Lattes" and "Bookshops & Bonedust."
See Credits Below.

A Month of Book Reviews – Next up, Artists!

There were three recent posts on The Weird Blog for January, because there were three Wednesdays. I’ll post more book reviews and also share the links to them here in future months. In February I plan move on to a different theme, one that might be closer to the “home turf” of Artdog Adventures: profiles of fantasy and science fiction artists whose work I admired at science fiction conventions during 2023.

About the Author

I, Jan S. Gephardt, have been writing this blog since 2009. Since I don’t want to let it die of neglect, I still plan to come around as often as I can to post new things and keep readers up-to-date with recent posts we’ve run on The Weird Blog. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s the best I can do right now.

I’m also a novelist, as well as being a paper sculptor. I’m currently in final edits on Bone of Contention,the third novel in my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. The series centers on a pack of uplifted police dogs who live, and solve crimes, on a space station in a star system far, far away. It is scheduled for publication September 24, 2024.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Designer Erin Phillips and Rebecca’s Write Inspirations for the “Feed an Author” quote. Thanks to Amazon for the book covers used in second image, Sedition Hunters, Burnout, and Why Does My Cat Do That? And ongoing thanks to Amazon once again, for consistently high-quality cover image files! Here are direct URLs to the sources for Extraction, Corruption, Legends & Lattes, and Bookshops & Bonedust.

“There is no better distraction in this world than losing oneself in books for awhile.” — Cassandra Clare Thank you, Quotefancy.

Due a Review

By Jan S. Gephardt

I’ve been reading some very enjoyable books recently. They really are due a review. I’m an Indie author myself. Co-publishing out of a micro-press I run with my sister counts as “indie,” trust me. Thus, I know how vitally important reviews are. But frankly, reviews are important to all writers, whether indie or traditionally published.

Every single review posted by an individual reader tells the world that this author wrote a book someone felt moved to write about. It’s “social proof” that YES! Somebody out there not only read this book, but wanted to tell the world something about it. It’s the absolute, A-Number-One, hands-down, best gift you can give an author whose work you enjoy.

Reviews have the power to move algorithms, those arcane formulations that dictate which books turn up first in the recommendations a reader searching for new books sees. They also can provide an author with authentic voices to quote in their marketing efforts. Do you write reviews? Do you give star-ratings when you finish a book? If you do, God bless you!

This image is created from two square-shaped images. The one on the left features a drone’s-eye-view of an old-fashioned black manual typewriter on a white background. The words say, “Your words are as important to an author as an author’s words are to you. Please leave a review. Katieroseguestpryal.com.” on the left is a predominantly black design with white, gold and tan dots around the edges. In the middle it says, “Feed an author LEAVE A REVIEW it takes five minutes and helps more than you can IMAGINE. ErinPhillips.me.”
Many thanks for these images to Katie Rose Guest Pryal and Erin Phillips, via Rebecca’s Write Inspirations.

A Lengthening List of Books that are Due a Review!

I “preach the gospel” of review-writing, but all too often I vow, “I’ve got to write a review for this! . . . Um, just as soon as I can.” And then “as soon as” stretches on for way too long. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “Justice delayed is justice denied”? Well, that goes for book reviews, too.

I realized recently that I’ve accumulated a rather long list of books I deeply enjoyed, that are still due a review. In the interest of making good on some of those mental promises – and also amplifying their reach a bit more by sharing them here, I thought I’d collect four in this blog post.

When I do finally get around to writing reviews, I customarily write them using the online forms provided by Amazon or Goodreads, and make sure I post to both. If one is writing a review anyway, why not extend the book’s visibility as much as you can? Another good thing to do, while we’re on Goodreads, is add a book to one of their Listopia lists. Not sure how to do that? They publish a guide.

The cover for “Poison Pen,” Book One at left, is a predominantly blue view of an almost implausibly empty street in Los Angeles, with strong one-point perspective that pulls the eye in. From top to bottom, the words say, “’Dynamite’ – Starred review – Publisher’s Weekly Sheila Lowe. Poison Pen, a Claudia Rose Novel.” At right, the two-tone cover in greenish gray and brown also shows an empty road in one-point perspective, this time in the Nevada desert. From top to bottom, the words say, “Top Ten List, Independent Mystery Booksellers Assoc. Sheila Lowe Written in Blood A Claudia Rose Novel.”
Many thanks to Goodreads for these cover images.

Sheila Lowe’s “Forensic Handwriting” Mystery Series

Let’s start with the “Forensic Handwriting” (also called the “Claudia Rose Novels”) mystery series by Sheila Lowe. I saw this author mentioned in the acknowledgements of a recent Margaret Mizushima novel, Standing Dead (Timber Creek # 8), and I was intrigued with a forensic handwriting angle for a mystery novel. That’s what led me to look it up. I’m glad I did.

Longer-term readers of this blog might remember I have featured work by Margaret Mizushima before. Back in 2021 I included her Timber Creek K9 series in my post on K9 Mysteries. I recommended the series back then, and I still do. It just keeps getting better! Speaking of which, Margaret also is due a review (actually, several) from me! But first let’s turn to Claudia Rose.

Twists, Turns, Smoke, and Mirrors With a Heart-Pounding Finish

Poison Pen, Book One of the “Forensic Handwriting” mystery series, opens with an interesting situation and kept me engaged all the way through till the end. It’s extremely well-written, and paced to keep readers turning pages. Claudia Rose has a unique approach to the world and makes an engaging protagonist. Her friends and frenemies also come across as three-dimensional, sympathetic, and distinctly quirky people.

Author Shelia Lowe deftly balances character strengths and weaknesses and offers us a lively array of suspects and questionable motives. Set in LA and focused mostly on the high-stakes, high-glamour, highly competitive world of the almost-famous who orbit the Hollywood scene, this book evokes a richly textured world as colorful and quirky as the cast of characters.

Lowe has us double-and triple guessing about “What is real?” and “Who can we trust?” But make no mistake, the twists, turns, smoke, and mirrors lead us into a heart-pounding final sequence that’s hard to put down–and delivers a deeply satisfying finish.

“There is no better distraction in this world than losing oneself in books for awhile.” — Cassandra Clare
Thank you, Quotefancy.

The Action Never Lets up and the Pages Demand to be Turned

Once I find a series I enjoy, I tend to follow it for a while. There’s a special delight in returning to a world and a group of characters I liked, to see what they’re up to now. In Written in Blood, Claudia Rose faces new challenges and a new set of enemies, while trying to navigate a relationship we saw begin in the first book. In this one, we spend less time navigating the desperate glamour of second-tier Hollywood than we did in the previous novel. Instead, we tighten our focus to an exclusive Los Angeles school for troubled rich girls. But if anything, the stakes are even higher.

One note: This book was published in 2008, and I kept noticing little time-warps: teenagers went to malls, back then. Marijuana laws in California have radically changed. Technology back then was different, too. As with many long-running series, little “period” things crop up. That said, it didn’t spoil my fun one bit.

Once again, Claudia’s skill with forensic handwriting helps her navigate the treacherous rip-tides of “Who is lying?” and “What is this person’s potential to harm others?” But even she isn’t infallible. The action never lets up and the pages demand to be turned–all the way to the breathtaking finish.

Covers for the first two books in the Coyote Run series. At left is a predominantly blue and green cover of a young woman and a Belgian Malinois dog looking across a northern California landscape. From top to bottom it says: “Coyote Run Book One. “Acosta’s talent is staggering.” – RT Magazine. The Dog Thief. Marta Acosta.” The second, mostly green cover shows the young woman and a German Shorthaired Pointer gazing into the woods. From top to bottom, it reads: “Coyote Run Book Two. Mad Dog Down the Road. Marta Acosta.”
Thanks for these cover images, Marta Acosta!

Marta Acosta’s Coyote Run Books

My sister G. S. Norwood recommended the first book in this series. She knew I’d enjoy the focus and analysis of dog behavior, which is quite important in my own XK9 science fiction mystery novels.

About a third of the way into the first book, The Dog Thief, I felt certain my daughter would enjoy it, too – so I bought her a copy for her birthday. And clearly, this is another that’s due a review! If you like unusual perspectives, love dogs, and appreciate a good mystery, you might enjoy this series, too.

A Unique Protagonist Keeps Us Engaged All the Way

Dog rehabilitator Maddie Whitney appealed to me from moment she told a woman to take off her scarf because it scared the animals. It’s clear from the very first page that Maddie has a markedly different perspective on life. I enjoyed simply inhabiting the world as she sees it. But Marta Acosta’s fast-paced mystery The Dog Thief also is peopled by many other interesting characters and challenges.

Maddie’s neurodivergent quirks and issues plunge us into a fascinating way of interfacing with the world. As we inhabit Maddie’s point of view via the brilliant evocation Acosta sustains throughout, we grow in understanding. We get why she likes dogs better than people, and how some of her behaviors make perfect sense to her – even as we understand why others react as they do.

She’s facing a lot of stress, even before she finds the dead woman in her neighbor’s field. Money issues threaten the Whitney Canine Rehabilitation Center, and she’s heartbroken over a recent breakup. Even more misunderstood in her Northern California hometown of Coyote Run than some of the hard-luck dogs she champions, she hangs in there. She’s true to herself. And in her own unique way she bridges divides, finds new love in an unlikely place, and outsmarts a desperate killer who’s hiding in plain sight.

"To lose yourself in a book is the desire of the bookworm. I mean to be taken. That is my desire."  — Fran Lebowitz
Thank you, AZ Quotes!

A One-of-a-Kind Viewpoint and more Acosta Magic

Maddie’s back, along with the other colorful range of human and canine denizens in Coyote Run for Mad Dog Down the Road. This time it’s summer, and our favorite “Mad Girl” is struggling to make her way without younger sister Kenzie around to provide her accustomed guardrails. As ever, her neurodivergent quirks give her a one-of-a-kind viewpoint on priorities.

But once she’s locked on to the sad case of the torn-up “bait dog” tossed out like roadside trash by a dog-fighting operation, she’s found a new obsession for her whiteboards and indignation. She’ll also decry a new local guru’s adult, pajama-clad “summer campers” who set off fireworks in mid-July despite prime conditions for a bad fire season. And don’t even get her started on the new deputy.

Then a local fisherman dies in a suspicious boat explosion, and her new dog Vixen finds a grisly, inexplicable “clue” that doesn’t seem to fit. Soon she’s hip-deep in all the mysteries, and unwittingly setting herself up for the most dangerous night of her life. This is typically superb Acosta magic. I didn’t want to put it down.

“A book you finish reading is not the same book it was before you read it.” — David Mitchell
Thanks again, Quotefancy!

When We Read a Book We Complete It

As with all works of art, when we listen, view, and react to it, only then is the creative circle complete. And I would argue that part of reacting to it is writing a review, if possible. The ones I’ve written and shared in this blog post are around 180 to 250 words long, but if you can boil it down to one sentence, it still counts – as long as you share it.

I can think of a bunch more great books that are due a review from me. I hope to share some of them in future blog posts. I’d prefer to collect them in groups for which I can establish a theme, just as I’d say “unusual angles on contemporary mysteries” is how I’d group those in today’s post.

I hope today’s blog post has given you a lead on a couple of interesting series, and maybe also pricked your conscience (as it did mine!). Because if you’ve read this far, I bet you’re the kind of person who loves to read interesting books. And perhaps some of them are also due a review.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Katie Rose Guest Pryal and Erin Phillips, via Rebecca’s Write Inspirations for the visual thoughts on the value of a book review. I’m grateful to Goodreads for providing a prime forum for posting those all-important reviews, and also for providing the cover images for Sheila Lowe’s books. Many thanks to Quotefancy for the illustrated quotes by Cassandra Clare and David Mitchell. Thank you, Marta Acosta, for the cover images for your two books. And it wouldn’t do to ignore AZ Quotes, with gratitude for the excellent words from Fran Lebowitz. Thank you all! It would be a far less visually interesting post without those images!

Here are the covers for the four books I review in this post.

Stranger-than-usual territory

Recently I’ve wandered into stranger-than-usual territory in three urban fantasy books

Actually the third one may fall more into the speculative fiction category, but it mostly takes place in a city, and some elements come across to me much more as fantasy than as fiction that’s based in any science I’m aware of.

It’s been a while (June 2018) since I posted any book reviews on this blog, but today I’d like to share glimpses of the stranger-than-usual territory explored in Extreme Medical ServicesThe SparkleTits Chronicles, and Hollow Kingdom.

Extreme Medical Services

This photo shows the cover of the book "Extreme Medical Services."

By Jamie Davis

A paramedic’s life is never dull, but that goes exponential for rookie paramedic Dean Flynn when he’s assigned to Elk City’s Station U. That place is definitely is located in stranger-than-usual territory

Station U isn’t your standard paramedic station. And the population it serves doesn’t exactly fit into any standard class of human patients. That’s because Station U serves the “Unusuals” in town. 

The local vampires, were-folk, sirens, faeries, dryads, and many other people who quietly (and carefully) live among the rest of the humans, but are medically “different.” As Brynne, Dean’s supervising partner, puts it, “They’re mostly humans, but not.”

Both together and individually, they create a challenging medical specialty. And they offer some moments of delightful humor.

This is a take on myths and legends unlike anything I’ve previously encountered. Davis poses a series of logical problems most of us have probably never imagined. What complications arise when the diabetic CPA also happens to be a werewolf? Or when a vampire has an allergic reaction? Or when a naiad (water sprite) gets severely dehydrated?

"Extreme Medical Services" is the first of a series. This image shows the first book's full cover, overlapping covers of the second and third novels in the series, "The Paramedic's Angel" and "The Paramedic's Choice."

Notes on the Series

These problems and more confront Dean and his colleagues from Station U. Better yet, each patient also is a well-rounded character with a distinctive personality. Davis is a natural-born storyteller with a strong sense of the ironic.

Unfortunately, he’s not a trained storyteller. That means the dialogue is often clunky, the pace is ragged, and the plot is more instinctive than possessing a well-thought-out structure. 

The frequent use of medical jargon may be off-putting to readers who were expecting more standard fantasy tropes, but the science fiction nerd in me got a kick out of the juxtaposition.

This photo shows the inside of an ambulance, with all of the emergency medical equipment laid out ready to go.
You’ll feel as if you’re riding along in the ambulance with Dean and the gang from Station U (Photo courtesy of Parkway East Hospital in Singapore)

Extreme Medical Services is the first in an 8-book (if you count the prequel) series of short novels about Dean, his patients, colleagues, and others. Of course there’s trouble brewing in Elk City, and Dean is uniquely suited to help deal with it. 

Whenever the series sticks close to its core identity it shines. Humorous and ironic medical-fantasy situations with a strong subtext of standing up for the rights of a misunderstood minority population provide some marvelous moments.

But the clunky writer-craft annoyed me throughout the series. And when the stories ventures too far into epic fantasy and cosmic cataclysm, they fall flat for me. In my opinion, the first 2-3 books were the most entertaining.

The SparkleTits Chronicles

By Veronica R. Calisto

This photo shows Veronica R. Calisto, one of the authors I've reviewed today.
Veronica R. Calisto 
at Westercon 71.

Yes, I know this is technically two books, but in a number of ways it’s not. I normally would never have seen or heard of these books if I hadn’t gone to Westercon 71, in July 2018 in Denver. That’s where I met Veronica and became intrigued with her unique personality and sense of humor.

That wry sense of humor and askance view of the world comes across forcefully in her writing, too. This woman has a voice and a style all her own, and it’s a pleasure to read her work. 

When I want to give a full-throated endorsement, however, I’ve normally directed people to her Diary of a Mad Black Witch. That one’s a stand-alone novel that I could have sworn I’d already reviewed in this space–but I can’t find it, soI’ll have to remedy the oversight soon.

Meanwhile, what’s up with “SparkleTits”? 

For a while the title itself held me back. I half-feared it would turn out to be some kind of exploitation ploy. But I couldn’t imagine that the author of Diary of a Mad Black Witch would really go there. So I gave them a try. 

And I’ve got to tell you, they definitely take you into stranger-than-usual territory!

This image includes the book cover art for the two "SparkleTits" Chronicles novels, "Starfish and Coffee," and "Sins  and Barbecue."

Greer Ianto is struggling to deal with the death of her beloved mentor Gabe when we meet her on what turns out to be the Nearly-Worst Possible Day Ever.

Then she gets semi-literally star struck (as in struck by something that looks to others like a star), and lives to ask what the heck just happened. At this point we have well and truly ventured into far-stranger-than-usual territory.

From there we plunge through nearly-nonstop (mis)adventures in a reality where superheroes are real (but, officially, they’re all men). 

As a six-foot-tall black woman with an attitude, suddenly possessed of her own superpowers (that even work on the superhero men), Greer is guaranteed to rock their foundations. And I for one had a blast watching her do it.

Sins and Barbecue

Greer has a new and troublesome relationship going on in the second novel. She encounters a number of new bad guys. And she finds more clues about her mysterious origins and her late mentor Gabe, who wasn’t exactly what he seemed to be. 

This particular cycle-within-a-larger-story finishes, but it’s clear the larger story continues. I very much doubt that the SparkleTits Chronicles are meant to end here.

This photo of Denver, including the city park, part of the downtown skyline, and the Front Range with Mt. Evans, is By Hogs555.
The “SparkleTits” Chronicles are set in Denver, CO–but they definitely also take you into stranger-than-normal territory! (Photo By Hogs555 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

You knew there’d be a “however”

These books are a lot of fun. Except for the moments when they fall apart. 

Calisto’s writing is much better-crafted than Davis’s, but there still are places where she needed a line editor and/or a proofreader (different functions!). They could have saved her from confusing constructions, infelicitous turns of phrase, typos, editing artifacts, and more.

They also would probably have reminded her that not everyone who reads Book Two, Sins and Barbecuewill read it immediately after Starfish and Coffee, so the reader needs a reorientation about who everybody is and what happened in Book One

The other big problem with these books is the interior artwork. The covers are workmanlike enough to convey the idea (no artist is credited for any of the artwork). But the interior artwork is just plain embarrassing. Incomprehensible and horrendously-timed, it appears that it’s supposed to convey some of the climactic action. It doesn’t. Instead it stops the story dead in its tracks at arguably the worst possible moment.

So, no. I can’t offer anything like a full-throated endorsement. But I can tell you it’s an interesting-enough experiment that I bought and read the second book. Make of that what you will.

Hollow Kingdom

By Kira Jane Buxton

If we suddenly had a Zombie Apocalypse, what would happen to all the companion animals? That’s the question underlying this much-talked-about top-seller.

Hollow Kingdom is the only traditionally-published entry in this blog post’s collection. The others are Indies that probably would not have received a good reception from the gatekeepers

Is it a better book? Well, the craft is clearly better. Kira Jane Buxton writes well, and she’s been well-served by her editors at Grand Central Publishing. There are no amateurish issues to battle here. The publisher supported this book’s roll-out with strong advertising and review coverage.

You definitely should give it a look. The animal viewpoints deliver spot-on caricatures we all recognize. In addition to the protagonist, S.T. the genius-crow, we hear occasionally from other characters such as Genghis Cat and Winnie the Poodle. Their brief cameos illuminate and provide humor–even as they also are poignant. 

The animal-welfare angle

Readers not used to reading speculative fiction or thinking in animal viewpoints may find it mind-expanding. And anytime we can get people to think more fully about animals and their welfare, that’s a good thing. But personally, I found it more depressing than many reviewers.

I’ve been associated with animal rescue organizations for long enough to cherish no illusions about what happens to domesticated animals when their caregivers cease to care for them. 

In this photo, four feral cats sit or crouch beside a broken fence on a dirt path, with two pigeons in the background.
All fantasy aside, domesticated animals without human care, like these feral cats, lead short, cruel lives. (Photo courtesy of Pretty Litter)

Even cats, which many people think probably would thrive without people around, would inevitably suffer problems (note the dangerous lives of contemporary feral cats). Far more horrifying, animals trapped inside buildings, aquaria, zoo cages, barns and pastures without food and water would die agonized, lingering deaths.

Hollow Kingdom is a fantasy, firmly planted in stranger-than-usual territory. It provides poignant moments, funny moments, and a great many improbable situations. Maybe it’s better not to talk about the rest of the grimness, but I read this more as a slow-rolling horror story than as “hopeful.”

IMAGE CREDITS: 

Many thanks to Goodreads, for the Extreme Medical Services cover art, and to Amazon for the series-covers image. The photo of the inside of an ambulance is from Parkway East Hospital in Singapore. 

The photo of Veronica R. Calisto at Westercon 71 was taken with her knowledge and permission, and is © 2018 by Jan S. Gephardt, but you may re-post it or re-blog it with an attribution and a link back to this post. The photo of the two books in the SparkleTits Series is courtesy of Amazon. The photo of Denver, including the city park, part of the downtown skyline, and the Front Range with Mt. Evans, is By Hogs555 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikiepedia.

The photo of the Hollow Kingdom coveris courtesy of Goodreads. Many thanks to Pretty Litter for the photo of the feral cats.

Found on Twitter

Jennifer Foehner Wells

Back in ancient days before the Tweeter-in-Chief became a thing and I became more focused on boosting my productivity, I could beguile hours at a time on Facebook and Twitter. I made some great discoveries during that time period, including the marvelous Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkyelbows), who writes and illustrates children’s fiction, creates delightful cartoons about the writing life, and turns doodles, found objects and table detritus into fanciful visions.

Patrick Weekes

I also discovered sf authors for older-than-children, especially Jennifer Foehner Wells, who’s become one of my all-time favorites (and a great inspiration), right up there with Lois McMaster Bujold and Louise Penny, as well as another Indie, Zen Di Pietrowhose space opera series I’m not done reading yet (reviews to come at a future date).

During the same period, I discovered Patrick Weekes, a fantasy author whose unique takes on magic systems and morality within what looks like high fantasy world kept me reading and chuckling (He also happens to be the lead writer for the Dragon Age game).

Since my theme this month is catching up on my reviews, I thought I’d dedicate this post to reviewing books by two of my “Twitter finds,” Wells and Weekes.

I’ve already reviewed two of Wells’ booksFluency and Remanence. I figure it’s now time for a couple more, along with Weekes’ Rogues of the Republic TrilogyYou know if they’re featured on my blog, I think they’re worth reading. Now let me tell you why.

The Confluence Series continues

Darcy Eberhardt’s story ended up being rebranded as Book Three of the Confluence Series (with two different Galen Dara covers), but whichever title you read it under, it’s quite a ride.
JaneAlanBrai, and the rest of the Speroancora crew are back for another adventure in Valence (with a Stephan Martiniere cover)–in which Zara, an interesting new voice, also chimes in for Book Four.

Turning the tables on The Most Dangerous Game

Inheritance (published earlier as The Druid Gene)

By Jennifer Foehner Wells

Here’s a new twist on the “abducted by aliens” idea, from an author whose entire “Confluence Series” deserves attention. Darcy Eberhardt is a second-year medical student who steals a break from studying for a test, to take an overnight camping trip with her boyfriend Adam. He’s determined to take her to a special place he’s found, so she can relax and rest.

It’s pretty special, all right. Unwittingly, Adam has led her to a place where a secret hidden for millennia in her genetic makeup can suddenly activate—and land them both squarely in the bulls-eye of an interstellar target.

Can Darcy learn to control and use her ancient gift—as well as all of her other aptitudes and capabilities—to forge new bonds with undreamed-of allies, and rescue both herself and Adam from the trap they’ve fallen into? Join her for a crash course in the myriad lifeforms of the “Confluence” universe (including a reunion for some Wells readers with Hain, protagonist of her novelette The Grove), as Darcy struggles to confront the most dangerous lifeform in her new, expanded world, and pass the hardest test of all.

A note on the covers: both The Druid Gene and Inheritance have covers by Galen Dara, whose distinctive style adorns much of Wells’ website, too.
A riveting space opera series, and a worthy new addition to the cast
 
The “Confluence” series continues to provide fascinating non-Terran worlds and cultures, and plenty of excitement, danger and suspense to keep me turning the pages. This book brings together our old friends, Jane Holloway, Alan Bergen, Ei’Brai the kuboderan, and the rest of the Speroancora crew, as well as their accumulating list of friends from an accumulating list of worlds.
Some of these friends realign themselves into new configurations in this episode. We also get relatively brief glimpses of Darcy and Hain, but even more striking is a parallel plotline that introduces a strong new character, Zara, along with some other very cool new characters and a whole lot of new complications.
All the while, our assorted friends do their part to support each others’ quests and keep the Swarm away from Earth. Relationships continue to evolve in realistic ways. Wells has written a worthy next chapter in this riveting space opera series, and has brought in a great new plotline. This is science fiction the way it OUGHT to be written! I already can’t wait for the next book.
A note on the cover: As with Fluency and RemanenceStephan Martiniere created the cover art for Valence. Wells has credited his covers as a factor in her early success. It’s a case in point for Indies: people DO often judge books by their covers. Invest wisely in a cover from a real professional!

The Rogues of the Republic Trilogy

Cover design and illustrations by Lili IbrahimDeron Bennett and Jason Blackburn do a remarkable job of keeping the look of Patrick Weekes‘ Rogues of the Republic series visually consistent (extremely important) despite the changing artistic hands for each book.
Will skill, grit and a large bag of magical tricks be enough?
Getting imprisoned for life on the impossible-to-escape crystals of the lapiscaela was not necessarily part of the plan.
But Loch, along with her band of rascals, rogues and magical miscreants are adaptable. Misdirection and sleight-of-hand might be pickpockets’ tools, but they know how to employ those techniques and a whole lot more to further their ends—which actually are more worthy than they’d ever want to admit. Now, if only the implacable Justicar Pyvic wasn’t so dedicated to tracking them down!
Soon it becomes clear that escaping from the lapiscaela was the easy part of their quest to regain a treasured artifact stolen from Loch’s family. Before it’s over she and her diverse companions (who include a shapeshifting unicorn, a talking magical warhammer, a disgraced mage, and a handful of others) will take on thugs, bullies, and power-mongering politicians, take a zombie for a stroll, and fight the Hunter Mirrkir, who is not mortal. But that’s just the warm-up.
Patrick Weekes brings to life a memorable cast of characters in a vivid fantasy world that is diverse, perverse, and consistently unlike others you may previously have explored.
May the best cheater win . . . 
How can a book of naughty elf-poetry keep the Republic and the Empire out of a war?
Former Scout, rogue, and daughter of an all-but-extinct noble house in her homeland, Loch doesn’t mind indulging in a little thievery, if that’s what it takes, and she has an intrepid band of friends and fellow miscreants to help her. This crew of sorcerers, sleight-of-hand artists, safecrackers, acrobats and others, as well as possibly the outcome of a high-stakes card game, may be all that stands between peace and mutually-assured destruction.
But there’s a lot of interference to run, between the golems, daemons, elves, dwarves, mercenaries . . . And did I mention the dragon?
A more unlikely lot of heroes you’d be hard-pressed to find, and they line up some unlikely allies, too—some of whom prove more trustworthy than others. Patrick Weekes once again brings all the seemingly-chaotic parts together for a fast-paced, adventure in which the dangers are high, but the cost of losing is even higher.
Beset on all sides in the hardest test yet

The Paladin Caper

Targeted where it hurts the most: their families!
The Ancients want to rise again, but they’ve been stymied by Loch and her band of “unusual suspects” twice, now. This time they’ll stop at nothing, and they have a head start. They’ve already infiltrated the highest ranks of the Republic. Their tentacles reach everywhere, and Loch’s group has no lack of mortal enemies with grudges too.
Not to mention enthralled elves and dwarves, golems galore, and a temple full of reanimated-but-dead priests among the obstacles. With the team scattered and hard-pressed, and the Glimmering Folk on the march, Loch would die to stop the Ancients.
Or has she, already?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Joe’s Geek Fest, for the head shot of Jennifer Foehner Wells (be sure to read Joe’s review while you’re at it!), and to Goodreads, for Patrick Weekes‘ head shot. Thanks are due to Amazon for ALL of the covers: The Druid GeneInheritanceValence, The Palace Job, The Prophecy Con, and The Paladin Caper. 

Classics

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest 

Isaac Asimov does not need my reviews, as so many contemporary authors do. But after having recently completed the classic “Robot” Trilogy, these three reviews were a pleasure to write. If you haven’t yet taken this walk back into an earlier view of the future, you really might want to give them a try. They’re classics for a reason. Dated? Sure. But even so, there’s a lot to enjoy.

The Caves of Steel

The opening novel of this major science fiction trilogy from the 1950s is a classic, odd-couple, “buddy cop” pairing. Elijah Baley is an Earth-born detective who profoundly distrusts the high-and-mighty Spacers, who think they’re better than those who stayed on Earth–and that goes double for the Spacers’ robots, who threaten to do away with ordinary people’s jobs and livelihoods. So of course when a prominent Spacer is killed while on Earth, and Baley is assigned to investigate, who should they name as his partner but a robot? And not just any robot. R. Daneel Olivaw is made in the likeness of the murdered Spacer, right down to the smallest hair. Cultures clash, misunderstandings ensue–but there’s a mystery to solve. This book opens a world of wonders (some of them highly improbable, given today’s understandings) and strong prejudices. A major theme is pushing one’s boundaries to open up new tolerance to “the other.” It’s a theme we could profitably revisit today.

The Naked Sun

I think this is my favorite of Asimov’s three classic “Robot” novels. It’s a well-made mystery, and once again involves a cast of interesting characters in a very unusual culture. Elijah Baley is promoted and sent (against his will) away from Earth as a special favor to the powerful Aurorans. His mission: unravel a seemingly-insoluble murder on another planet, Solaria, for which the only suspect is a beautiful young woman named Gladia Delmarre–who swears she didn’t do it. Baley is teamed up once again with the inimitable R. Daneel Olivaw. Together–and occasionally at odds with each other–they unravel the mystery in a way that only someone willing to “think outside the box” could do. Meanwhile, Baley continues to expand his horizons and push himself to new lengths against conditioning he’s accepted all his life . Some of the extremely dated assumptions underlying the entire world made the whole work even more interesting to me.

The Robots of Dawn

By the time this third installment was written, some of the tech was already looking and feeling a little obsolete–but Asimov is regarded as a master for good reason. This book brings Earth Detective Elijah Baley, his sometimes-partner R. Daneel Olivaw, and the Solarian, Gladia Delmarre, back together again, in new circumstances on the primary Spacer planet of Aurora. But Gladia’s in trouble again, and Baley still has un-dealt-with feelings for her from their earlier encounter. This book explores them and brings the trilogy to a resolution, while allowing Baley, once again, to use his powers of deduction in a way only a man NOT of Auroran culture could. Another fascinating take on culture clashes and assumptions made—even while it remains blind to some of the assumptions of the time period in which it was written.

IMAGES: I took photos of the covers of books in my possession, to make the composite as consistent as possible. The cover art for The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are both by Stephen Youll. Cover design for The Robots of Dawn is by Kiyoshi Kanai.

Chipping away at the TBR Tower

Actually only PART of
my TBR pile. It’s harder to
photograph a pile of e-books!

I recently tweeted a photo of my “TBR” pile . . . not “to be READ,” but “to be REVIEWED.”

I’d been giving my work area a far-too-long-delayed cleaning, in an attempt to regain (the illusion of) control over my collection of books. On an impulse, I started stacking up books I’d read but to the best of my recollection had not yet reviewed . . . oh, my. What a guilt-inducing exercise!

Why guilt-inducing? Because some of those books are Indie-published. Even for traditionally-published writers, their reviews play a part in their ranking on Amazon’s lists. And an Indie without very many reviews is in many ways INVISIBLE.

As Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant note in their indispensable Write. Publish. Repeat(white spine, middle of my pile; sorry, guys, soon, I promise!), “Regardless of whether your reviews make you feel good or bad, that’s not what matters in the big picture. Reviews mainly matter because they serve as social proof. The more reviews a book has, the more legitimate it will appear to people . . .” (italics are mine; p. 299 of the print version).

If someone reviewed a book, that is supposed to mean they read it (please DO read them! Anything else is fraudulent behavior that no one appreciates and many websites have effective means of punishing).

This meme goes around from time to time–and it’s as right-on as ever. Pass it on!

I have often held back from writing a review if I am critical of some aspect of the book, but (especially for Indies) I’m trying to mend my ways in that respect, at least on sites such as Amazon. That’s because even critical reviews are valuable. (I still prefer not to review books I just don’t like at all, on this blog)

Critical reviews are never fun for authors to get, but even if a certain percentage of those who read the book didn’t like it and say so in a review–they still were interested enough to read part or all of the book, and cared enough to write a review. Others might read what was meant to be a thumbs-down, and think, “hey, that sounds interesting!” (because not everything one person dislikes is “bad” to someone else).

Read it for 3D characters and nonstop adventure!

Let me give you a case in point. I double-checked my memory about several of the books in that pile (“did I really not write that review? I sure meant to!”). In the cross-checking I ran across a review by someone else for Remanenceby Jennifer Foehner Wells (I did review that one, thank you!! Also posted the review on this blog, which should tell you what I thought about it).

The guy (yes, it was a guy, but you guessed that, I bet) who wrote it criticized “the amount of time spent developing a touchy feely/romantic relationship between two main characters.”

This, of course, is one of the many things I love about Wells’s novels: three-dimensional characters who are more than just their job or their mission. They have personal lives and relationships (not all of them romantic) with other characters. Thus, this guy’s “I dislike this” review reflected an aspect I really liked, and (alongside all the reviews by folks who loved the book) might have induced me to read it, if I hadn’t already enthusiastically done so.

So go ahead and write those reviews. Take the time–especially if you liked the book, and double-especially if the author hasn’t garnered 1,000 reviews yet!

For an Indie (basing this guideline on Platt & Truant, again), 10 or more reviews are reasonable, but not stellar. More than 100 reviews means the author’s made a respectable showing, and might be worth a look from someone who’s not sure. More than 1,000 puts the writer in a much more impressive league, alongside bigger-name, more established writers. Every review is important, even if it isn’t the one that pushes the writer over a threshold, because every review gets them one step closer.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write some book reviews . . . .

IMAGES: I took the photo of my own “TBR Tower.” If you wish to re-post it, please do so with an attribution to Jan S. Gephardt and a link back to this blog post. I found the “I support Indie Authors” meme on Jo March’s blog, via Pinterest. Thanks, Jo! The cover image for Jennifer Foehner Wells’s Remanence is from her website. The cover artwork is by Stephan MartiniereIf you haven’t yet read Remanence, you should buy it from Amazon and read it! Don’t miss the rest of the Confluence Series, either!

“Moving the needle” and author readings

I just wrapped up a delightful weekend at ConQuesT 49 in Kansas City, MO. Yes, it’s my “home convention,” but it was a particularly good one, this year–and I’m not the only one I heard say that.

The presentations by the amazing Elizabeth Leggett were worth the price of admission, all by themselves–Especially the big reveal of my friend Lynette M. Burrows’cover for her soon-to-be-available new book, My Soul to KeepIt was part of Leggett’s presentation on the making of book covers.

This is only a tiny glimpse of the “Book Cover” presentation by Elizabeth Leggett, featuring development of the cover for My Soul to Keep by Lynette M. Burrows, a spine-tingling alternate-history thriller soon to be released by Rocket Dog Publications.

Unfortunately, I was so busy I barely got to see half of the wonderful Dealers’ Room, and never made it all the way around the entire Art Show, though I helped hang the mail-in art. Did manage to get a photo of my own display.

Here is my before-sales display at the ConQuesT 49 Art Show. I sold several of my larger pieces!

I spent a lot of time at author readings, during the convention. I had my own reading on Saturday–and was overjoyed when I got a good audience! Thanks, everyone! 

I make a point of going to other authors’ readings, too–for several reasons. I like to know what their current projects are, and because it’s fun to find new things to read. I also like to support my fellow writers–and it’s a lot more fun to read your work aloud when there’s someone eager to listen!

Just a few of the books from which their authors selected scenes to read at ConQuesT 49: L-R, Blood Songsby Julia S. MandalaSinger’s Callby J. R. Bolesand The Alchemist’s Stone, by Kevin WohlerI either own, or will soon buy, copies of all of them.

I had panels opposite some of the authors I wanted to hear, but I did get a chance to listen to Kevin WohlerJ.R. BolesJim YeltonJulia S. Mandala, and Van Allen Plexico. I also really wanted to hear Sean DemoryLynette M. Burrows, R. L. Naquinand Rob Howell, but unfortunately I had duties elsewhere when they were reading.

One thing I did notice was that all readers are not equally audible, or intelligible. I was half-planning to create a post about “Reading Best Practices,” but Lynette beat me to it–and I don’t think I can improve on her excellent post! If you are an author who does readings–or if you know an author who does readings–give her post a close look! If you look at readings as a marketing vehicle, or if you plan to record your own audio-version, pay close attention to her advice!

It also pays to advertise, so come prepared with pre-printed information about where to find your work, and what it’s about. I’m always amazed how many authors forget to tell what the book is about, in their promotional material. Authors (especially Indie authors) sometimes think that making appearances at sf conventions isn’t worth the effort because it doesn’t normally result in an immediate jump in sales.

J. R. Boles and Sean Demory, who teamed up this winter as part of the Palookaville team, both did readings at ConQuesT 49. They came to meet fans, talk about their work, and share thoughts. That’s sold brand-building.

It also pays to advertise, so come prepared with pre-printed information about where to find your work, and what it’s about. I’m always amazed how many authors forget to tell what the book is about, in their promotional material. Authors (especially Indie authors) sometimes think that making appearances at sf conventions isn’t worth the effort because it doesn’t normally result in an immediate jump in sales.

But I am convinced that appearances at conventions are not so much about lead generation as they are about brand-buildingWhy do you think so many traditionally-published writers with established reputations still bother with going to conventions? It’s a chance to interface directly with a larger number of one’s fans, and to impress more, through your knowledge on panels, your attention, which is flattering, and your demonstrated grace. Of course–if you don’t demonstrate much grace (skip panels or readings, hide out in your room, or shy away from fans), you won’t develop a whole lot of brand loyalty!

IMAGES: Many thanks to Elizabeth Leggett’s public Facebook page, for the image of developmental stages for the cover of My Soul to Keep by Lynette M. Burrows! I took the photo of my Art Show panels; you may re-post the photo with my blessings if you don’t alter it, give an attribution to me, and link back to this post. The cover image for Blood Songs is from Amazon; the cover image for Singer’s Call is from J. R. Boles; and the cover for The Alchemist’s Stone is from Kevin Wohler. The photo of J. R. Boles and Sean Demory is from Sean Demory’s Facebook page

Challenging assumptions in science fiction: 1. putting my foot in it

I’m probably going to get myself in trouble, writing this series.

Actually, I first began thinking subversive thoughts about the canon assumptions of sf decades ago.

But I wrote the basis-document for this series of posts last summer, while reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). It’s the first novel in The Expanse series, which is the basis for the SyFy series of the same name.

First of all, let me say I enjoyed the book, and I do recommend it, although if I go into why the ending disappointed me, it’ll involve spoilers–so I won’t. Go ahead and read the book. Maybe what bugged me about the ending won’t bother you.

In between the squees of delight and the nitpicks, however, I began to form a stronger and stronger opinion, the longer I read: I would absolutely hate living on Ceres. And I bet everyone else would, too.

Why? Because that is a massively dysfunctional, dog-eat-dog society. I’m looking at Ceres, as portrayed in LW, and seriously—that place is a hellhole no Chamber of Commerce PR campaign could pretty up! So why would anyone willingly choose to go there, see what a sorry excuse of a place it was, and then fail to either leave, or work to make it better?

This is not even close to being an exhaustive collection of all the corporations with their eyes on a profitable future in space.

That the cops are run by a corporate contractor is not a stretch, given that we already have corporations leading the way into spaceprivate contractors covering security for more and more corporate and government entities, and for-profit corporations such as CoreCivic run many of our country’s prisons, for well or ill.

GRS (Global Resource Solutions) provided security for the State Department in Benghazi; ACADEMI is better known by Blackwater, its former name; SOC works for the US Departments of State, Energy, and Defense, as well as corporations; Constellis is the parent company of the security firm Triple CanopyCoreCivic is a private prison management company you might remember better as Corrections Corporation of America.

But the clowns and cowboys who pass for law enforcement on Ceres have no concept of professional law enforcement best practices whatsoever. They make some of our more troubled contemporary police departments look like models of even-handed social justice. Even worse for the good people of Ceres, no one in a position of leadership seems interested in requiring them to step up.

Other outstanding reasons NOT to live on Ceres?

  • Human life is apparently cheap, and easily squandered with no penalty.
  • Freedom of speech is nonexistent, and so is freedom of the Fourth Estate.
  • The nutritional base is crap. Seriously? Fungi and fermentation was all they could come up with? Readers of this blog don’t need to guess what I think of this idea.
  • Misogyny is alive and well, but mental health care is not.
To paraphrase, Ceres ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids–at least not the version of it we see in Leviathan Wakes.

Now, I totally understand that sometimes in a story things have to get pretty dark before they get better. The principle of contrast for emphasis is important in most art forms. But I also have begun to get eternally weary of the same not-necessarily-well-founded assumptions being trotted out without all that much examination in novel after novel.

How could such an epic fail of a so-called society as the Ceres of Leviathan Wakes sustain itself? I mean, outside of the canon tropes of SF? Realistically, not too well, in my opinion.

I’ll get deeper into my reasons in upcoming posts. But people, please! We’re writing science fiction, here. Can’t we imagine anything outside of that same predictable rut?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the Leviathan Wakes cover art. 

I am indebted to the following for the logo images used in the Aerospace Logos montage: to Wikimedia Commons for the Spacex logo; to Stick PNG, for the Boeing logo; to LogoVaults for the Orbital Sciences Corporation logo; and to Space Foundation, for the Sierra Nevada Corporation logo. 

I am indebted to the following for the logo images used in the Security and Prisons Logos montage: to LinkedIn, for the GRS logo; to IDPA, the International Defense Pistol Association, for the ACADEMI logo; to SOC for its logo; and to Constellis for its logo. 

Finally, many thanks to Science Versus Hollywood, for the still image of Ceres Station from SyFy’s The Expanse. 

I appreciate you all!

Book Review: A Finer End by Deborah Crombie

Ancient Mystery and Contemporary Murder Mingle in Avalon Territory 

A Finer End, by Deborah Crombie
I don’t often read something published as a traditional mystery, thriller, and even police procedural that I think my friends who are into paranormal or urban fantasy might like, but this just might be the book to bridge that gap.

Set in contemporary Glastonbury (well, almost contemporary: it was published in 2002) at the foot of the fabled Tor, this is Book Seven in Crombie’s “Kincaid and James” series of British mysteries, but it most definitely will stand on its own. 

Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are experiencing both personal and professional upheaval in this book. They move out of their roles as professional partners and explore their personal relationship–wherever it may be going–while Gemma faces a challenging new professional assignment and Duncan copes with the loss of his erstwhile sergeant (Gemma, who’s been promoted) and begins to learn how to parent Kit, the twelve-year-old son he only recently discovered he had.

Is the mysterious Glastonbury Abbey monk Edmund for real?

When Duncan’s cousin Jack Montfort asks him to come to Glastonbury for a weekend to help with a rather unusual matter, Duncan and Gemma hope spend some pleasant, relaxing time with him and each other. 

But when Jack’s “unusual matter” turns out to be mysterious automatic writing from a twelfth-century monk named Edmund of Glastonbury, in far more literate Latin than Jack could manufacture on his own, the weekend takes a decidedly unusual turn. 

And that’s before the murder of artisan tile-maker and former midwife Garnet Todd upends everything. What was Garnet’s odd obsession with the runaway pregnant teenager Faith Wills, and why is Faith seemingly compelled to climb the Tor, despite her delicate condition? Did someone also try to kill Jack’s girlfriend, the local vicar Winnie Catesby

Why does the pregnant teenager, Faith, keep trying to climb the Tor?


Ancient violence, contemporary murder, and intertwining mysteries reveal themselves through the eyes of many viewpoint characters, and spin into a gripping climax and resolution that you will not see coming.

I’ve been following Deborah Crombie’s work for several years (fairness disclaimer: she’s also a valued friend), and in 2015 I made it a project to read all 16-and-counting titles in her “Kincaid and James” series of mysteries set in Great Britain (a rewarding experience for me, both as a reader and as a writer). 

This book in particular is a master-class in juggling more than the usual number of POV characters while keeping all of them distinct and interesting, and weaving past and present, myth and police procedure, analytical logic and mysticism into a fascinating, multi-dimensional tapestry of story.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the book cover image; unfortunately, A Finer End is out of print, but Amazon still has copies available. The beautiful photo of the Glastonbury Abbey ruins is from TripAdvisorUK, and the evocative photo of Glastonbury Tor is by the AP photographer Peter Morrison, via Fairyroom.

Recommended Reading: The Chet and Bernie Mysteries by Spencer Quinn

Because I am writing an sf novel with a canine protagonist that involves a mystery, I like to keep up with what else is being written in this general category (you might be amazed how many there are). And sometimes I find wonderful things!


Case in point: the “Chet and Bernie Mysteries” of Spencer Quinn. The first two novels in this deservedly-bestselling series, which has now stretched to 8 novels and several e-shorts, are:

Dog On It (2009)
Told entirely from the viewpoint of Chet, the 100-lb. K9-training “reject” with one black ear and one white ear, this entertaining, fast-paced story grabbed me from the very first line. 

Chet lives with his human partner, PI Bernie Little (of the Little Detective Agency). Their home is in an unnamed southwestern state, in a place Chet only knows as The Valley. 

In their first adventure, they’re on the trail of Madison, a teenager who may or may not have been kidnapped, and is the focus of a dispute between her divorced parents. 

Mom Cynthia Chambliss is convinced her daughter has been kidnapped, and hires Chet and Bernie to find her. Dad Damon Keefer (who smells suspiciously of cat) tells Bernie she’s probably run away, but demands details of the investigation. 

Turns out Mom is right, but when Madison briefly turns up again, it almost looks as if the case will come to nothing . . . until she disappears again. Good thing Chet is on the job! He follows her trail–and ends up in deep trouble, himself. 

Will Chet and Bernie unravel the clues in time? Who is the mysterious Russian? Was Madison really in Las Vegas the whole time, after all? And how does the knife in the parking lot fit in? Enjoy the suspenseful fun as you read the book to find out.

Thereby Hangs a Tail (2010)
Chet and Bernie return for a second adventure, this time on a mission to investigate threats made against a show dog named Princess. Her owner, the wealthy Adelina Borghese, is worried.

The partners need the money, so they take what seems at first to be a silly job as bodyguards to a pampered puffball. But when both Princess and Adelina disappear, things get serious very quickly. 

What are the secrets of the ghost town where Chet finds Princess? Who is the sniper? Will Princess and Chet survive their trek across the desert? Where has Bernie’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Suzie Sanchez, disappeared to? Read and find out! You’ll be glad you did.

Chet spins his tales well, yet remains very convincingly a dog. it’s one of the things I love most about him. He could only have been written by a man who intimately understands dogs. Quinn (actually the thriller-writer Peter Abrahams) clearly has a long and close relationship with the species. (His current canine family members are Audrey and Pearl. They live with him and his wife on Cape Cod).

While the “Chet and Bernie Mysteries” are not at all like what I’m writing, they have been a delicious discovery. I hope you’ll enjoy them, too!

IMAGES: The cover images for Dog On It and Thereby Hangs aTail are both courtesy of Simon & Schuster. Many thanks for both!

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