Saturday, March 18, 2017

Guest Post: Carolyn Arnold - Writing Serial-Killer Fiction.
As a lover of the TV shows like "Criminal Minds," you'd think that I would be more of a crime fiction reader; but actually, I hardly ever read this genre. So when I received this offer to put up a guest post about writing serial-killer fiction by author Carolyn Arnold, I jumped at the opportunity. It certainly sounds fascinating!

Writing Serial-Killer Fiction


The world seems to be uniquely fascinated and captivated by the mystery of serial killers. What motivates them to kill, and why do they choose certain people to be their victims? As fiction writers, we need to harness that intrigue, but we also should be very careful not to allow our work and characters to become cliché. That feat is certainly a tough one—especially since most stories have already been written!—but it can be done. It’s all about making your work extraordinary by creating your own distinct slant and personalized voice. And let’s not forget that it’s up to you to make sure your storytelling is superb. 

But there’s even more to it than good writing and coming up with a unique motivation and method of operation (MO) for your serial killer. You also have to know how your investigator is going to realistically look at the case. You want to portray your main character—for example, an FBI agent—as following and working through the investigative process the way one would if he or she was living and breathing. If you don’t, you risk losing your reader, not only for that book but possibly for future ones, too.

So where do you begin when you want to write this kind of fiction? Let’s start with what constitutes a serial killer. The basic definition requires a series of three or more killings that, due to characteristics such as an MO, can be attributed to one individual.

From here, the serious authors do their due diligence to educate themselves both in the mindset of a killer and the investigator, as well as in accurate police procedure. They should search online and reach out to real-world contacts for direction and feedback. As they do this, they’ll come to see a basic formula and start to recognize common terms and phrases, such as cooling-off period, trigger, organized, disorganized, hunter, sexual sadist, and the list goes on. As they dig even deeper, they will start to understand all that is involved in building a profile, as well as how and what information the investigator needs to compile a solid lead.

While writing serial-killer fiction takes a lot of research, it is very rewarding. As an author, you provide entertainment to many readers, it’s true, but you are also shining light on a dark part of society. You are going beyond the surface of the horror and providing some clarity into these heinous crimes and the minds of those who commit them.

Remnants is available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover formats from popular retailers, including the following:

Remnants Book Overview:

All that remains are whispers of the past…

When multiple body parts are recovered from the Little Ogeechee River in Savannah, Georgia, local law enforcement calls in FBI agent and profiler Brandon Fisher and his team to investigate. But with the remains pointing to three separate victims, this isn’t proving to be an open-and-shut case.

With no quick means of identifying the victims, building a profile of this serial killer is proving more challenging than usual. How is the killer picking these victims? Why are their limbs being severed and bodies mutilated? And what is it about them that is triggering this killer to murder?

The questions compound as the body count continues to rise, and when a torso painted blue and missing its heart is found, the case takes an even darker turn. But this is only the beginning, and these new leads draw the FBI into a creepy psychological nightmare. One thing is clear, though: the killing isn’t going to stop until they figure it all out. And they are running out of time…

About the Brandon Fisher FBI series:

Profilers. Serial killers. The hunt is on. Do serial killers and the FBI fascinate you? Do you like getting inside the minds of killers, love being creeped out, sleeping with your eyes open, and feeling like you’re involved in murder investigations? Then join FBI agent and profiler Brandon Fisher and his team with the Behavioral Analysis Unit in their hunt for serial killers.

This is the perfect book series for fans of Criminal MindsNCIS, Silence of the Lambs, Seven, Dexter, Luther, and True Crime

Read in any order or follow the series from the beginning.

About the Author

Carolyn Arnold is an international bestselling and award-winning author, as well as a speaker, teacher, and inspirational mentor. She has four continuing fiction series and has written nearly thirty books. Both her female detective and FBI profiler series have been praised by those in law enforcement as being accurate and entertaining, leading her to adopt the trademark, POLICE PROCEDURALS RESPECTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT™.

Connect with CAROLYN ARNOLD Online:

And don’t forget to sign up for her newsletter for up-to-date information on release and special offers at

Friday, March 10, 2017

Counting on Family

Sisters One, Two, Three by Nancy Star

Ginger's 13th year was as unlucky as the number. Many years after that tragic summer, it seems no one has been able to fix anything broken back then. Furthermore, there's her deteriorating relationship with her daughter Julia, and her mother Glory is no less strange now, than she was back then. This book, written in parallel timelines, is a story about secrets, hiding things and what should to let go of vs. what to hold close.

As noted above, Star tells this story through parallel timelines, at least for the most part. One line follows Ginger today, with her daughter and husband and relationship with her sister Mimi and her brood. The other follows Ginger's 13th summer, the one that changed the Tangle family forever while vacationing in Martha's Vineyard. However, around two thirds of the way through the book, the flashback narrative ends, and the rest of the book focuses on only the present. Of course, part of the reason for this is to learn as much about that tragic summer as possible, together with some of the aftermath. The fact is, from quite early on in this book we realize that Star's early timeline is there to reveal the terrible event in this family's past. We also can easily guess what happened. On the one hand, this type of plot development builds up the suspense very nicely, and there are essential elements about Ginger's 13th summer that are vitally important to the story. More importantly, these sections also help us better understand Ginger's relationship with her parents and siblings. However, I think Star drew these sections out just a bit too long for my taste. To be honest, one point I started to feel a bit frustrated and somewhat impatient for Star to get on with the "action." I also felt that this slightly diminished the dramatic impact of the event. In other words, I think if Star had finished the dual narratives by about half way through the book, it might have felt a bit stronger.

Don't get me wrong; I really enjoyed this novel. To begin with, Star's style is very open and frank with a good smattering of humor, of the kind where you'll find yourself grinning. Star also doesn't mess around with overt descriptions of scenery, although you'll certainly get pictures in your head of places like the Vineyard and the beaches. With this, most of the focus of Star's story is on what the characters are feeling as they pass through those places, which further helps develop the atmosphere. Most impressive was how Star developed Ginger to perfection, who is the outstanding protagonist here, and this book really is her story. Star also does a marvelous job with developing Ginger's mother Glory. Star carefully shows the tensions between mother and daughter, particularly where there are secrets between them, paralleled in Ginger's own relationship with her daughter Julia. Together with the other minor characters, we get interplay of relationships, clouded by deceptions that enhance all of Star's situations.

As noted above, as soon as Star finished telling us about the fateful events of Ginger's 13th summer, and its immediate aftermath, this story really took flight. With only the present day events, the story unfolds with increasing tension, straight through to a marvelous twist in the story that you'll never guess is coming from anything that preceded it. From there, Star takes us to a quick conclusion that leaves us with just enough information to make us believe that the whole family has taken a turn towards improving their relationships with each other as well as in their own separate lives. I would even go so far as to say it was gripping, with enough of an emotional bang to make me cry (in a good way). For all of this, I can highly recommend this book and give it a strong four and a half stars out of five. (Warning: Although I would never call this "chic-lit," I do have a gut feeling that this book will appeal more to women than it will to men. Not that there aren't plenty of men out there who will enjoy this book, but my feeling is that this will be a bigger hit with female audiences. Is that sexists of me?)

"Sisters One, Two, Three" by Nancy Star, published by Lake Union Press, released January 1, 2017 is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Becoming the First (Review and GIVEAWAY)

Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister

Kate Warne - I'm sure that name means nothing to you. On the other hand, you may have heard of the name Pinkerton. Today that name mostly brings to mind security services, like their armored cars. However, in the mid-19th century, Allan Pinkerton started a detective agency in Chicago, and in 1856, he hired Kate Warne as his first female detective. With the little information left about Warne and her escapades, Macallister weaves a story of intrigue and mystery in her latest historical fiction novel.

Having read Macallister's first novel "The Magician's Lie" I believed I already knew what kind of writing to expect with this novel. Mind you, sometimes a second work by an author whose debut gets quite a bit of hype, can be a disappointment. Thankfully, this was not the case with this novel. In fact, the things that prevented me from giving Macallister's first book five stars are found nowhere in this novel. There are no hints of magical realism, and the ending feels real and strong. What we do get is a impressively told story where Macallister pulls her readers into the story and leads them along just the right paths, which were exactly the things I loved about Macallister's previous book. Furthermore, Macallister once again draws a character in which we can immediately identify, and care about. That Warne was a real person must have made developing her character all the richer, even though many of the facts surrounding some of her Pinkerton cases were lost in the Chicago Fire. Of course, I assume Macallister felt something of an obligation to include those few, remaining well-documented jobs, such as the role (most historians believe) she played in assuring Abraham Lincoln reached Washington safely for his inauguration.

I've often thought that an over abundance of facts can sometimes constrict historical fiction writers and force them to incorporate too many of them in such novels. This also means that if an author takes too much poetic license with the truth, they risk the ire of purists. I'm sure then, that for Macallister in this case, the lack of facts about Warne must have been something of a blessing. She knew that Warne was a widow, but nothing about her husband. She knew that Warne wasn't unattractive, but she was hardly beautiful (from the pictures she found). Of course, she knew that Warne was a pioneer and because of that, Warne must have been exceptionally smart and fast witted. Obviously, how could Warne have been anything less to succeed as the first woman in this man's world of detecting? All this allowed Macallister to take this skeleton of facts, and add not only flesh and bones, but also a heart and a soul.

What I'm trying to say here is that this book is downright amazing, and I'm having a hard time calming my enthusiasm for this novel to write an objective review. With all those elements of the facts (and lack thereof) in place, together with Macallister's vivid imagination and compelling writing style, we get an adventure story that pulls you in and keeps you fascinated until the last word. In fact, the only thing that I found to be just the very slightest bit unlikely was when Pinkerton didn't want to use Warne as a spy during the Civil War. However, I am willing to overlook this, since it is possible Macallister added that to make Pinkerton look selfish and overprotective. Furthermore, Macallister gives us a character study that is undeniably realistic, containing all of Warne's most incredible qualities, while building her into a woman who is at the same time imperfect and vulnerable. It should therefore be no surprise that I'm giving this novel a full five stars (watch for this one to be included in my "best of 2017" list), and highly recommend it. 

(This review is participating in the official blog tour promoting this book. See below to enter the giveaway to get your copy of this book and Macallister's first novel, "The Magician's Lie.")

"Girl in Disguise" by Greer Macallister published by Sourcebooks Landmark (release date March 22, 2017) is available (for pre-order) from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. 

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Feminist Stories from the Past

Herland and Selected Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Back when I was writing a review of the dystopian novel "The Beautiful Bureaucrat," I read a review that likened that book (in part to Kafka and in part) to a short story called "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Having never heard of this writer, I was curious to see if that story might give me some further insights into that book (knowing full well that sometimes reviewers like to show off how well read they are by namedropping in this way. I'm not well read, and I will admit here that I haven't read more than snippets of Kafka, but that's beside the point). After reading that story, I didn't believe this reviewer made much of an appropriate comparison, but I also realized that I needed to read more by Perkins Gilman.

Of course that meant I had to go looking for a book to buy. The collection I found included this well-known short story, along with several others, together with her novella "Herland." To preface this review, it is important to note that Perkins Gilman was a late-19th-early 20th century writer known for her outspoken feminism - in other words, a woman well ahead of her time, whose real life is echoed in the stories she wrote (you can read more about her here).

To begin with, the novella "Herland" was nothing like I expected. I'd read that it portrayed a mythical land inhabited with only women. I was not expecting that the narrator of this story would be one of the three men who discovered this place, and ended up living there for some time - initially as prisoners. His observations of their experiences in this land, combined with the very different ways that the three of them react to and interact with these women allow the reader with an outsider's view of this utopian civilization. One fascinating thing about "Herland," is how timeless it seems. Yes, there are some dated elements, but overall, it felt surprisingly modern for something written over a century ago. Another thing I found interesting was how Perkins Gilman essentially boiled down the male gender into three types of men. There's the kind who studies and learns and tries to see the pros and cons in both worlds; there's the kind that wholeheartedly accepts that everything he thought prior to this time was wrong, and; there's the kind who refuses to see any good in anything that doesn't fit his preconceived ideas.

Perkins Gilman somewhat echoes this "trifecta" of male personalities in one of the subsequent short stories where she tells the tale of a woman pursued by three suitors. Of course, the one she chooses is no surprise, mostly because we already know from the stories that precede this that Perkins Gilman does not portray women as inherently stupid or gullible, although sometimes it takes a while for them to discover this. In fact, the recurring theme in almost all these stories is women figuring out how they can gain, regain or retain control their own lives, often despite seemingly insurmountable odds. The men, of course, have three choices - object and be gone; accept and comply; or agree to a compromise that suits them both. This may sound formulaic, and therefore a bit redundant, but Perkins Gilman is very creative in finding new ways to frame these dilemmas. Mind you, some of the solutions to the problems of these women may feel antiquated to our modern lives, but we must recall when these stories were written, and appreciate them for how revolutionary they must have been at the time.

The one exception to this rule is certainly her most famous story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," which not only breaks the mold regarding positive outcomes from detrimental situations, but is also written in an almost completely different style than the rest of this collection. All the other stories here felt light and breezy, and even sometimes humorous, as if Perkins Gilman believed that a softer touch to the narrative would make them less threatening to the readers. "The Yellow Wallpaper" on the other hand, while it starts out with that same gentle tone, it increasingly gets harsher and darker. This is probably one of the most powerful stories I've ever read, which fully justifies its classic status. Moreover, while some of these stories seem dated, "The Yellow Wallpaper" is feels extremely relevant, even today.

Overall, I'm glad I decided to read these stories, and thrilled that they're still available after all this time. Through these stories, Perkins Gilman gives us a glimpse back at a time when women were just starting to realize that they weren't as powerless as the men around them wanted them to think they were. Although many of these stories came out before women even had the vote, I'm sure they were an inspiration to suffragists and feminists of the time as well as for decades to come. For all this, I think that although some of the stories here bordered on being almost silly, the significance of their publication dates, and their subsequent influence on society makes me believe I should give this book a full five stars!

"Herland and Selected Stories" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes (iBook or audiobook of Herland and The Yellow Wallpaper), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Old Conspiracies, New Sins

Yom Killer by Ilene Schneider (Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery #3)

Yes, Rabbi Aviva Cohen is back, and she is just as feisty as ever. This time, when her mother lands in the hospital in a chemically induced coma after a fall in her assisted living facility, something doesn't seem quite right. However, until her mother wakes up, she's going to have a hard time figuring out what's really going on. It doesn't help that her straight-laced sister and her ex-husband the cop need to keep her out of harm's way in the process. Worse, she has only the few days between the Jewish New Year and the holiest day in Judaism - Yom Kippur - to get it all done before she has to be back on her pulpit.

Where do I begin with reviewing this book? I could start with how I enjoy Schneider's style. It is friendly, open and she makes me smile. With this third novel in the series, Aviva is really filling out - and by that, I don't mean her weight, but rather her personality. More importantly, Schneider seems to have honed her voice much more in this book. There were times in her previous novels where I felt that she wasn't completely comfortable with the narrative. Previously, I found some awkward passages and sections that needed some paring down, if not eliminated. This time, while there were some areas that I think she could have polished or shortened a bit more, I didn't feel that there were any large superfluous sections at all. Overall, this book had a more consistent and cohesive feel to it, with far fewer blips to interrupt the flow of the story. (Mind you, admittedly sometimes my radar for these things is overly sensitive.)

The story this time is also slightly different from Schneider's earlier works. This one doesn't involve investigating one murder in particular, but rather a conspiracy, that may have included murder. More importantly, this book makes somewhat of a political statement regarding privatization of elderly care systems. Schneider seems to say that the levels of greed within such systems can lead to the type of corruption that both literally and figuratively kills its clients. Greed has always been a motive for many different kinds of criminal acts, and this makes Schneider's scenario even more plausible. As an aside, I'm hoping that this sort of thing doesn't really happen in privatized elderly care the US these days (and I hope this story isn't a harbinger for the future).

Despite this gloomy outlook, what makes me enjoy Schneider's books so much is the humor that she includes. Rabbi Aviva's self-depreciation and indulgences in food come together with her relationships creating situations you'll not be able to stop yourself from giggling about. Of course, that doesn't mean Aviva is any less aggressive and unconventional in getting things done, nor any less adorable than we've already witnessed. This of course, makes all of her characters even more endearing. However, I have to admit that I was a bit surprised at how Schneider portrayed Aviva's sister in this book, considering how she talked about her in the previous novels. I'm not sure that this portrayal was true to character, but I can understand why she decided to take the route, which aligned with the whole "asking forgiveness" theme of Yom Kippur - the Jewish day of Atonement.

In short, Schneider succeeded in bringing all of these elements together to make a real pleasure of a read. When times are tough, having something like that can be a true blessing, and I believe that Schneider did me a "Mitzvah" by letting me read this book. I hope I can return the compliment by giving it a rating of four and a half stars out of five (although to be totally honest, it really deserves just slightly less than this, but I don't have quarter stars, so I'm rounding up here)! Go on, indulge yourself and read something fun for a change!

"Yom Killer" by Ilene Schneider is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the author for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. 
You can read my reviews of Schneider's other novels here:

Friday, January 6, 2017

Guest Author Post: Joanna Paterson

I don't have time to read all of the book requests I get, but I still try to help indie authors, when I can. That's why I'm pleased to present you with this guest post from Author Joanna Paterson, aka Joanna Geyer-Kordesch, Professor emerita for European Natural History and the History of Medicine, Honorary Senior Professorial Fellow, The College of Arts, University of Glasgow. In this post, Joanna talks about her short story and poetry collections. Take a look - they sound really lovely!

My two books of short stories, “The Old Turk and Other Tales” and “Through the Mirror”, examine that tricky balance between experience and the spiritual world that anyone—and the author—would encounter or like to encounter. There are realms which take us beyond ourselves—and I like to explore them. Short stories should stimulate thinking—they are always potentially true. So many of them lose themselves in the usual earthbound stories about romance and the twists and turns of people in love, but I tried to go beyond those confines to involve spiritual worlds. The short stories I wrote are phantastic in the sense that they treat the unseen as a vital encounter, but engage with it, also, if you think of it that way, as a possible extension of the Self.

The stories don’t tell you what to do. They are meetings with vibrant beings, ways of seeing. Some are fun, like the story about hats in the Old Turk collection. I also call to mind the ancient goddesses and what they represent—this in Through the Mirror. You can visualise this as about memory and about the sea and the land. I have been to these places myself—but they are transformed and show themselves in a new way.

I explore Europe and ancient places in Ohio, U.S.A., and what they represent, the unusual, the dialogue with them that can create connections, letting go the mundane, the things you are used to. I hope there is pleasure in these extensions of the mind’s adventures.

What I liked most are the stories of transformation in “Through the Mirror”. The metamorphosis does not have to be into human lives, but can be a bird such as in “Jenny Wren”. Or it can have a message as in “The Owls of Scarba”. And then there are some places that simply evoke the moon and thinking in different ways of where you are, such as in an eighteenth century tower in Dessau, Germany, or in a long forgotten village in Austria.

The Shaman Birches of Argyll” and “The Travelling Moon”, my poetry books, on the other hand, are grounded in experience and often on watching the sea while sailing on the West Coast of Scotland. They are an exploration of nature and lochs and birds, indigenous or otherwise, especially the seabirds that visit. These show closeness with nature that can only be vitally expressed in poetry. I think about the natural world and try to find it again in words. I was born in the land-locked—except for the cross European river Danube—city of Vienna. So this is an encounter with a different and exciting world.

My books of poetry probe the new countryside in the Highlands where water is everywhere—the mysterious sea, the lochs and the burns. The rising moon, the trees and ferns that grow wild on hillsides are also featured. The essence of the poetry is both myth and place. Nature has different dimensions and I want to bring them close to the reader. Poetry gives feelings and vision in versions that other genres cannot.

I do not believe that even adult books should be without images. So I have given all my books illustrations. I hope you like the way words and pictures go together!

My books are all available from Amazon as Kindle or print-on-demand editions under the name Joanna Paterson. You can contact Joanna by mail at Dundas Yews, Saltoun Hall Gardens, Pencaitland, East Lothian, EH34 5DS, Scotland.