Sleuth on Safari

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author A.R. Kennedy and her cozy mystery novel, Sleuth on Safari.

Author’s description:

Naomi and her estranged sister are off on a trip of a lifetime—an African safari, a bucket list trip for Naomi on which she got a last-minute deal. Naomi thinks traveling with her sister will be the worst part of her African safari until she finds one of their fellow travelers, the unlikable Dr. Higgins, dead. She gets more adventure than she bargained for when she starts investigating what she thinks is murder but the luxury lodge says was a tragic accident. She only has a few vacation days, and a few game drives, to find the killer.

My Review:

In, Sleuth on Safari A.R. Kennedy has written a fun and easy-to-read amateur sleuth novel that will have you turning the pages to cheer on its rookie crime solver, all while enjoying the excitement of a safari.

I’ve been lucky enough to go on a trip similar to the one in the book* (without the murder, of course) and I can assure you Kennedy does a fine job of capturing the wild beauty of nature in sub-Sahara Africa as well as some of the less story-book aspects of such a trip.

She does it while presenting a likable sleuth, an adequately complex cast of suspects, and a satisfying ending.

My most significant complaints all occurred early on, when the two sisters in questions seemed more like they were squabbling preteens, not young women in their twenties. As other characters were introduced they came across as stereotypes. However, Kennedy was just getting started. Most of the safari guests became more complex as the trip went on, and the protagonist Naomi and her sister began to act their age after the first few chapters.

One the things I enjoyed most was the ongoing humor regarding the lack of internet access. Her description of other little things like the ubiquitous safari-themed decor, lavish meals and five a.m. game rides were all right on the mark, too. And anyone who has ever spent a night alone in the wilderness (yes, I have) will love reading about Naomi’s night alone in the tree house.

I recommend this book to those who like cozy mysteries, and to all who enjoy travel, whether they’ve been to Africa or not. This novel is a fine way to take a memorable armchair trip.

About the Author:

A R Kennedy lives in Long Beach, New York, with her two pups. She works hard to put food on the floor for them. As her favorite T-shirt says, ‘I work so my dog can have a better life’. She’s an avid traveler. But don’t worry. While she’s away, her parents dote on their grand-puppies even more than she does. Her writing is a combination of her love of travel, animals, and the journey we all take to find ourselves.

Find her on Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, Bookbub or on Twitter. 

Buy Sleuth on Safari on Amazon.

Yes, there is a giveaway.

A. R. Kennedy will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN gift certificate to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

My Favorite Excerpt:

I returned my attention to our current view. The lush green landscape in front of us. For over a mile, the varying shades of green spanned in front of us. Nothing man-made in sight. Even if you looked to your right or left, you couldn’t see the other lodgings. All you saw was nature.

Some of the greens started to sway. Initially, I thought it was the wind, but the movement was just in a small area. I pulled my binoculars out of my backpack for a closer look and gaped at what I saw.

Our phone rang and Charlotte ran to get it.

Now in full view, I watched a herd of elephants appear in the field. The twenty-plus elephants varied in age and sizes. The wrinkled gray bodies, with white curved tusks, marched along the land, spread out from each other. Their tails gently swung back and forth. Some stopped to graze. Their elongated trunks reached into the trees for leaves.

“It was Geri, from next door,” Charlotte told me as she returned. I pointed to the field. “Wow,” she gasped.

In silence, we watched the herd traverse the field. I snapped a few photos but spent most of the time just watching them. They walked slowly across the land. I smiled as a calf—that’s what Sonny told me a baby elephant was—trotted to keep up with his mother after he had fallen behind. The elephants’ trunks swung slowly back and forth as they plodded along. Occasionally, they stopped to graze a few leaves from the trees before resuming their journey together.

The herd now gone, I asked, “Why’d Geri call?”

“Wanted to let us know about the herd of elephants.”

I rested my head on the lounge chair. “That’s nice.”

“Ulterior motive, I’m sure.”

* A Personal Note:

I do love cozy mysteries but I picked this book primarily for its connection to travel in Africa. It did not disappoint. You can read about and see photos from my own safari at Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59 and Smiling my way across Kenya.

 

I Know When You’re Going To Die

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Michael J Bowler and his Mystery/Thriller novel, I Know When You’re Going To Die.

Author’s description:

Leonardo Cantrell is a painfully shy sixteen-year-old who cannot look people in the eye. One night while he’s volunteering at a homeless shelter, an old man forces eye contact and gives Leo the power to see Death.

 

His best, and only, friend—J.C. Rivera—thinks this new power is cool until Leo accidentally looks into J.C.’s eyes and “sees” his murder, a murder that will occur in less than two weeks. Stunned and shaken, the two boys sift through clues in Leo’s “vision” in a desperate effort to find the killer and stop him before he can strike.

 

Aided by feisty new-girl-at-school, Laura, the boys uncover evidence suggesting the identity of the murderer. However, their plan to trap the would-be killer goes horribly awry and reveals a truth that could kill them all.

My Review:

In the cleverly titled I know When You’re Going to Die, Michael J Bowler begins with a fascinating premise and delivers a taut and unpredictable tale. I raced through it.

What I liked best:

  1. The concept of needing to solve a murder before it happens is an interesting one. I’ve seen it elsewhere in science fiction, but the idea of having a “superpower” to know when others will die is unique, as far as I know, and the whole idea of solving a crime to prevent it is well executed here.
  2. The pacing is perfect. The suspense builds throughout the story and Bowler keeps the reader turning the pages without overloading or exhausting them.
  3. Leo, Bowler’s clinically shy good-guy protagonist, is a hero for all. Seriously, if you can’t cheer this guy on, consider seeking professional help.
  4. It’s a genre crime novel, so the reader knows the mystery will be solved just in time, but the ending is sufficiently convoluted and unexpected. It feels worth the wait.
  5. The underlying messages of friendship, tolerance and kindness are a refreshing bonus.

What I liked least:

I enjoyed this book a lot, and I think my minor issues with it stem from it being a young adult novel, one in which all of the protagonists are high school students. So, my recommendation comes with the caveat that the reader should not expect the story to go outside the scope of a young adult novel.

  1. I felt too many of the adult characters were not well-fleshed out. For example, the story included not one, but three moms who cared little about their teenage children. Hard for me to believe, but maybe not so hard for a teen-aged reader.
  2. The complicated relationship between close same-gender friends during the teen years and early sexual attraction and exploration is central to the story, and yet the author shies away from resolving issues. Again, I suspect the young age of the intended audience is the reason, so I gave him a pass on this one.
  3. The premise behind the plot brings up major philosophical questions about predetermination, death and even cause and effect. I’d have loved to see some of this stuff tackled … but again…..

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good crime story, or a good superhero story. You absolutely have to read it if you enjoy both.

About the Author:

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author who grew up in Northern California. He majored in English/Theatre at Santa Clara University, earned a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and a master’s in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills. Michael taught high school in Hawthorne, California, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities.

When Michael is not writing, you can find him volunteering as a youth mentor with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and raising his newly adopted son. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, and hopes his books can show young people they are not alone in their struggles.

Find Michael J Bowler on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram or on Twitter. 

Visit Michael J Bowler on his website.

 Buy I Know When You’re Going To Die on Amazon

Yes, there is a giveaway.

Michael J Bowler will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN gift certificate to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

My Favorite Excerpt:

I’m not sure how long I lay curled up on that beach before I hear someone huffing and puffing above me.

J.C.

I crack open my eyes. He’s doubled over, clutching at his sides and fighting for breath. Sweat streams from his wavy black hair down onto his face. “What…” he wheezes, struggling to breathe, “did… you… see?”

I unravel myself and sit up, pulling my knees in and clutching my legs tightly. I don’t look at him, instead scanning the surrounding beach. It’s a weekday and there’s nobody around except the lifeguard in his station, and he isn’t very close.

“Leo!”

I look up as he collapses to the sand and gazes at me with wide, terrified eyes.

Still, I can’t bring myself to say it.

He grabs me by both shoulders. His grip feels like iron. His panting has lessened, but not the fear on his face. “Tell me. Please.”

I lower my eyes again. “You’re…” I force myself to breathe. “You’re going to be…” I can’t say it.

“What?”

“Murdered!” I blurt, glancing at the stunned look on his face.

His mouth opens, but nothing comes out for a long moment. “When?” His voice is a choked whisper.

I don’t want to say it, but I have to. “A week from Friday.”

He gags, like he’s gonna throw up all over me. I’ve never seen him so vulnerable, so small and afraid, and that scares me more than what I saw in his eyes. He collapses onto the sand and cries.

 

Murder: Double or Nothing

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Lida Sideris and her mystery novel Murder: Double or Nothing: A Southern California Mystery.

Author’s description of the book:

Corrie Locke, newbie lawyer and daughter of a late, great PI, is learning the ropes at the Hollywood movie studio where she works–and where things are never what they seem. Life imitates art when a fictional murder attempt turns real–right before her eyes.

With more than a little help from friends and a crazy movie legend, Corrie trips down a trail littered with wisecracks, mysterious messages, and marginally legal maneuvers to track down the killer. Meanwhile, clues keep disappearing and Corrie makes an enemy whose deadly tactics keep escalating. Will her impromptu sleuthing skills be enough to catch the mysterious assailant before he takes her down?

A note from me:

I have a soft spot for zany crime novels with an unusual premise. (Full disclosure: even though my own novel Shape of Secrets is a fantasy, it is also a murder mystery.) So this is my second review of this author, and I hope to do more. Before I post my review of Lida Sideris’ third book Murder: Double or Nothing, I’d like to show you my review of Sideris’ second novel Murder Gone Missing, as done in July 2018.

In Murder Gone Missing, Lida Sideris has written a clever and funny story to entertain fans of light-hearted mysteries.

What I liked best:

  1. This is a witty, fast-paced book with enough unexpected twists to keep the reader engaged.
  2. The author paints descriptions with an artistic flair, and a hint of crime noir satire. Passages like “Fog crept around the hilly street, clasping hands with the darkness” abound. Better yet, she does it deftly enough that they don’t slow the story down.
  3. The protagonist Corrie Locke may steal high-fashion items from her mother, but she is a tough and capable detective with a good heart.
  4. One of my favorite scenes is when main character Corrie admits she has been antagonistic to another character for so long that she doesn’t even remember why she is doing it. The bit of self-awareness is in stark contrast to the sometimes unjustified sharp banter, and it did much to win over my sympathy for Corrie.
  5. The author does a noteworthy job of ending chapters in such a way that the reader just has to keep going.

What I liked least:

  1. At least one other novel preceded this one, and I never felt quite up to speed on the interpersonal relationships between Corrie and her two potential love interests.
  2. In places the book reminded me a little too much of the famous Janet Evanovich series, upon which it appears to be modeled. (One spunky woman PI and two gorgeous men.) For example, Corrie’s sidekick Veeda talks entirely too much like Stephanie Plum’s sidekick Lula.
  3. Witty and fast-paced can be overdone. In its least effective places, the book becomes a series of flippant one-liners in need of a little emotional honesty.

The power of what I liked well exceeds what I didn’t, and I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a mystery with touches of humor and just a hit of romance.

Now …. My Review of Murder: Double or Nothing:

In Murder: Double or Nothing, Lida Sideris has improved on what she does well, and softened some of the rougher edges in her second novel. She has once again written a clever and funny story to entertain fans of light-hearted mysteries.

What I liked best:

  1. Once again, this is a witty, fast-paced book with enough unexpected twists to keep the reader engaged. As an added plus, who doesn’t like to read about Hollywood?
  2. The protagonist, Corrie Locke, not only has a new law degree, but she seems to be a more capable crime solver than before, and a little less inclined to break laws without consideration of the consequences. I liked this more mature and capable character.
  3. I liked what has happened with the other characters, too. Love interest Michael is more lovable, high-fashion mom is more likeable, and Corrie’s sidekick Veeda has become more of her own person (and far less a clone of Stephanie Plum’s sidekick Lula.)
  4. The author continues to do a noteworthy job of ending chapters so that the reader just has to keep going.
  5. Plus … both Sideris and her creation Corrie really take their game up a notch in the suspense filled ending. Corrie shows her best yet as both a fighter and as a detective, and Sideris delivers a taut page-turner of a finale.

What I liked least:

  1. I still struggled with not feeling up to speed on Corrie and her fascination with a competing love interest, Michael’s best friend James. Clearly, there is history here and it matters. I wish I knew what it was.
  2. Witty and fast-paced can be overdone, and in my opinion Lida Sideris’ style at times would benefit from more transitions to add flow to the story. While her dialog and plot developments are never quite as jarring as in the previous novel, in its worst spots this book becomes a series of actions scenes and flippant one-liners in need of more connection and motivation behind them.

However … as with the previous book, the power of what I liked absolutely exceeded what I didn’t. In fact, I enjoyed this book more than its predecessor and I’d recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a fun mystery.

About the Author:

Lida Sideris’ first stint after law school was a newbie lawyer’s dream: working as an entertainment attorney for a movie studio…kind of like her heroine, Corrie Locke. Lida lives in the northern tip of Southern California with her family, rescue dogs and a flock of uppity chickens. She was one of two national winners of the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America Scholarship Award for her first book.

Find her on Facebook or on Twitter, visit her on her blog, and buy Murder: Double or Nothing on Amazon.

Yes, there is a giveaway.

Lida Sideris will be awarding a copy of the book (US ONLY) to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops.

 

 

Almost my new cover

I love where Deranged Doctor Design is going with this cover. What do you think? I’m having such fun re-birthing my second novel. The newly named and highly edited new version will be out in mid-February and I can’t wait.

Curious to see the first two versions? Here’s the first proposal.

I liked it, but wanted more orange, and more of a sense of the tropics. Also, Zane’s shape-altering abilities force him to forego facial hair in the book, so Zane had to change. Finally, much as I like the lasso of fire, as I called it, on the first book, I didn’t want to commit to having it on all six covers. So here is the second version.

I liked everything about this one but Zane, or more specifically Zane’s head. I could tell we were getting close, though, and we were.

The Number One Reason I Write Books

I write books. Why?

It is a reasonable question. I recently started participating in writer’s groups again and much about them has got me thinking.  A women well into her second novel told me of an acquaintance who has made it to the New York Times Best Seller list. Wow. Something to be in awe of, of course. My critique group-mate is also in awe of the woman’s process. To paraphrase, she read the top ten fiction books at the time, analyzed what they had in common, and wrote the perfect hybrid book, designed to succeed. And it did.

All I could think was “what a miserable way to write a book.” That brought me round to the essential question of this post. If I’m not writing to make a best seller list, what am I doing? I tried to be brutally, unflatteringly honest and I came up with seven reasons I choose to spend most of my free time on my laptop creating books. Some of them are pretty stupid.

This post is about the first answer that popped into my mind. It may not be my biggest reason, but it may be the one that keeps me writing novel after novel.

I have fun doing it. In fact, I have more fun making up a story than I have doing anything else. Yes, even that (although it is close.)

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t particularly enjoy rewriting, or proofreading, or formatting or all the other chores that take 80% of my writing time. I do enjoy research, but not that much. I hate marketing. I don’t do much outlining. But I love, absolutely love, making up stories and putting them down on paper.

I’ve told myself tales in my head for as long as I can remember, but committing the story to typed words moves it from an ephemeral daydream to a real thing. It can become more complex, be improved, and be reread and enjoyed. Seeing the words in front of me makes it better, and allows me to tell far longer tales.

The best part of it? It is finding out what happens. I always have an ending in mind, but I never know how my characters are going to get there, and they continually surprise me. They morph into better or worse or more complex people than I intended, they develop points of view I never considered, and they come up with ingenious solutions I swear I would never think of. (Or is that impossible?)

For me, that first draft is like watching a movie or reading a book except it is in a setting I picked, filled with characters I resonate with, and about things I like. Once I’ve got a story going, I can’t wait to get back to writing to figure out what will happen. Other forms of entertainment seem boring by comparison. I like my own stories better.

There you have it. Goofy but real. I write for my own entertainment.

Are there other reasons? There must be. I keep doing the other 80 per cent of the process over and over as well, no matter how much drudgery it is. Why? Perhaps the reason lies in the other six reasons that occurred to me. Those will be the subject of another post.

(Read more about why I write at My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing , I write because it’s cheaper than therapy, Nothing cool about modest ambitions, I love to be loved and Remember My Name.)

Seldom does anything bad come from dancing

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Every so often my characters surprise me with their wisdom. I’ll be writing away, happily trying to convey some occurrence crucial to my plot, and one of them will interrupt the action with a remark that causes me to pause and wonder where that came from.

Yesterday I sent the manuscript for my fifth novel off to my editor Joel. Big happy moment. I like to give the beginning and the end one last read before I do that, and I stumbled across the scene above. The fire dancer from Kiribati, Afi, has always been wise in my mind, and here he was once again surprising me with something insightful.

It might not have struck me except for the fact that I am mildly addicted to another blog. Every day Cathryn Wellner sends me a short blurb about something that gives her hope, and most days whatever she has found gives me hope as well. Yesterday she wrote about Officer Jeff Krebs of Kansas City Missouri, a man who is a lousy dancer, but uses his poor attempts at street dancing to reach out to the generally mistrusting youth around him. Visit this post Ferguson, Missouri is not Everywhere, nor Everyone and while you are there you may wish to check out some of her other dollops of good cheer.

You can also go straight to the video of Officer Krebs dance here. It’s not particularly impressive footwork, but he lends support to Afi’s point. Good things generally come from trying to dance.

 

It’s all about who you are

When I created Zane, a character who could alter his appearance at will, I realized that I needed to make him someone who would not be obsessed with using his special gift to merely look more attractive. He needed to be smart enough to not complicate his life by running petty scams. He needed to be shy enough not to want to draw attention to himself by showing up at parties appearing to be a celebrity.

Think Real 1How many ways could you make your life easier, or even just more interesting, if you could look like anyone? I spent a good bit of time trying to devise the possibilities that might occur to a real life shape shifter.

Then I considered the many ways that using such a talent could leave you embarrassed, without friends, or in even trouble with the law. In order to contain my story, I had to figure out reasons that Zane would chose to use his gift sparingly. I decided that, in essence, he needed to be a twenty something who was wise well beyond his years.

But does age equal wisdom? I’ve known too many people in their sixties, seventies and eighties who are obsessed with petty concerns. They may be more focused on their own back problems than they are with partying, but the focus is still on self and their grasp of the consequences of poor choices is weak. I’ve also been privileged to know a few far younger who appear to carry wisdom as part of their very nature.

One would think that more experiences, and more mistakes, would give a human more chances to learn the important lessons in life. But it doesn’t always happen that way, which makes me think that just because you are given a lot of opportunities to learn something, it doesn’t mean that you will.

Then I realized that perhaps my character Zane had an advantage in the early gaining of wisdom department. If you could look like anyone at all, wouldn’t you figure out pretty quickly that a human is not defined by what they look like, but by what they are like inside? I think you would.

(Please visit the Facebook page of Think it Real and drop off of like for the image shown here.)