Who Doesn’t Like a Little Inspiration?

A wee while back I posted about Nancy Drew, the amateur sleuth who inspired me to write mysteries.

Feeling nostalgic, I ordered a few of the many I’d read as a kid (gotta love Amazon).  Written in the 50s and 60s by Carolyn Keene, a pseudonym of the various authors that wrote both Nancy Drew mysteries and The Dana Girls mysteries, they were “frolicsome” adventures for the young [aspiring] Sherlock within.

Having read three so far, the ones I recall having been my favorites back then, I thought I’d provide then-and-now reviews.

The Haunted Showboat

The first Nancy Drew read by yours truly had me so riveted, I spent the entire weekend in my bedroom with it.  It took me to New Orleans, which sounded so exotic to a kid living in cold, gray Toronto.  It provided action and excitement, a world where a “girl” could lead an exciting adventurous life, have (and easily make) friends.  She was pretty, smart, and oh so [enviably] likable; with two affable sidekicks, Bess and George, a darling dad and kind housekeeper, life seemed more than perfect.  While solving the mystery with them, I learned a few facts, too.  It was a 5/5.

I have to admit—YA writing style aside—it was still an enjoyable read, save for some politically incorrect words/terms/portrayals.  During the period, using them in books or on TV seemed the norm; today, whoa, not at all acceptable.  Ignorance of the times?  A topic for another post.  A 3/5 (for taking me back to the bayou).

The Clue in the Old Stagecoach

Nancy, Bess and George attend Camp Merriweather where the trio attempt to locate—yup—a clue in an old stagecoach.  In fact, finding it might just help save a town.  They detect while pursuing camp fun and encountering requisite villains—which is somewhat reminiscent of those 60s beach flicks with cute crooning Frankie and perfectly-coiffed Annette.  Must be nice to have moneyed parents that can send you to fun/faraway places.  <LOL>  The trio—with the assistance of their ever-faithful beaus—solve the case with stellar results, natch.  I’d probably have given it a 4/5 back then.

Stagecoach wasn’t quite what I remembered.  Flat and not overly eventful (with some annoying characters), a 1/5 would be about the best I could offer today.

The Moonstone Castle Mystery

This one accompanied me to Germany when my mother and I flew over to attend her mom’s funeral.  It had the same drawing power as Haunted Showboat and I was captivated as the three young women traveled to Deep River to locate a girl missing since childhood.  Yes, there was a moonstone (a gift sent to Nancy by someone unknown) and a mysterious, rundown castle reputed to be haunted.  A sundry of exciting events occurred, including the stealing of our titian-haired detective’s car, a chase or two, and some questionable characters.  Oh, of course, the aforementioned beaus made an appearance again—for that “romantic” component I suppose (but, quite frankly, unnecessary).  It was a 5/5 then and is a 4/5 now.

As an only child with few friends and parents who didn’t much know what to do with a child they’d not planned for (a fact and not stated with malice or regret) the stories provided pure escapism—distant and intriguing places, and opportunities to allow [a burgeoning] imagination to develop.

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What a pleasant diversion these last two weeks have been, an entertaining [if not enlightening] jaunt back in time.  There are a few additional Nancy Drew mysteries to read.  As time permits.  Perhaps there’ll be more reviews, too.  <LOL>

For those penning and/or reading mysteries, happy sleuthing.

Review & Interview: James J. Cudney and Academic Curveball

Academic Curveball: A Braxton Campus Mystery is the first cozy from James J. Cudney IV (Jay) . . . a big winding curve from suspenseful family dramas Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure.  While Glass and Father lean toward the poignant and WPJayUseAenthralling, and occasionally dark, Academic successfully captures the feel of a cozy— with subtle humor and the requisite amateur sleuth, quaint settings, curious characters, clues and red herrings.

Jay’s graphic descriptions of Wharton County and Braxton pull us into various locales; we can clearly envision the picturesque campus and dwellings, feel the chilly November air dance across our skin, and experience the ouch-y smack upon accidentally hitting our head on a wooden bedroom beam.  This author has a gift for creating vivid images.

Thirty-something protagonist/narrator Kellan Ayrwick returns to Pennsylvania from California for his crusty father’s retirement from Braxton College.  Leaving his five-year-old daughter Emma with in-laws, he demonstrates the care and concerns of a loving single parent.  It’s easy to like calm and affable Kellan and want to follow his “inadvertent adventures” when a murder occurs.  When his boss requests he remain and cover the dastardly deed for their TV show, he soon discovers that anyone—family and friends included—is a viable suspect.

Before we know it, we’re eagerly ambling along the sleuthing trail with Kellan, attempting to figure out “whodunit” . . . and hoping the one person who didn’t “dunit” is Nana, his wonderfully [hysterically] eccentric grandmother.  This woman is a dynamo, reminiscent of Stephanie Plum’s Grandma Mazur.  (I could see this quirky gal carrying her own cozy series.)

The book leaves a few openings and storyline possibilities for future Braxton mysteries, which we know are [happily] coming.  I’m looking forward to pursuing Kellan’s next “case”.

   Rating: save save save save save

Intrigued by our author’s prolific blogging and writing projects, I felt compelled to conduct a mini—most interesting—interview.

What served as the inspiration for Academic Curveball?

I love cozy mysteries and book series. I’ve been reading them for ~25 years now and find myself always looking for the latest edition or drama in recurring characters’ lives. I think it’s because I am an only child that I love seeing the continuous bond within families and friends in small towns. I’ve always wanted to be a professor, but I waited too long to go to graduate school. I don’t have the energy or time to go back for advanced degrees now, so I wanted a way to feel like I was back on campus. When I combined all of this together, I thought… maybe that should be my new book series! The first plot evolved out of another dream where I pictured the killer and his/her reason for committing murder, then I built an entire story around it.

Did you envision yourself as Kellan during the writing of Academic Curveball—i.e. are you the protagonist putting the pieces of a puzzle together or are you the creator/author providing twists and turns for your main character? 

It’s a combination of both. There are tons of things about Kellan that are 100% me, both in how I speak, my level of sarcasm, and how I analyze situations. I’m not nosy by nature, so I had to push those elements. Someone could say “I think X is so angry with Y, they’ll kill her.” I’d ignore it and not want to get involved in someone else’s drama. Kellan is different. He’d have 100 questions and never stop trying to guess what could happen. Since I draft an outline with scenes described chapter by chapter before I begin writing, I’m definitely creating the twists/turns, but Kellan’s voice surprises me. Sometimes he says things which make me as the author realize I have to alter a scene because he’s smarter than me.

Do characters/characterization come naturally (instinctively) as you write, or do you spend time developing and crafting them?

Both. Each character has 3 or 4 traits (physical and personality) before I write a scene. When they begin to act in the scene, their individual personalities also emerge, then I go back and update prior chapters so it’s consistent. Minor characters never have a look and feel during the outline stage unless I see them as long-term. After the first draft, I read slowly and keep a list of all things I’ve said about a character, then I apply a ratio-formula depending on their number of scenes or future longevity. I want everyone to have enough traits that readers get a good picture but have room to fill in the blanks, too.

Some authors simply go with the flow; their fingers fly furiously across a keyboard.   What’s your writing style?  Do you let the story and characters tell the tale or do you give considerable thought to scenes/scenarios and how they’ll play out?

After writing a one-page summary of the plot and characters, then I write a ~25 page overview outline. It has details about the murders, the suspects, and the cliffhangers. I also have a chapter by chapter and scene by scene bullet list of what needs to happen. Sometimes it only lists one character and then I decide who (s)he interacts with in the scene in order to build the drama or cover the cozy aspects of the town’s life. In this book, I deleted two chapters by merging their content in with others, then I also added six scenes to help with transitions between chapters. It becomes a puzzle trying to figure out what order to make things happen to keep up the mystery.

On a non-professional note, what inspires you, James J. Cudney?

Outside of reading and writing, I love genealogy, cooking, and history. I am an expert in nothing, nor a jack-of-all-trades. I know a lot about a bunch of things, but I still sometimes need the basics to round out what I am interested in. Inspiration usually comes in the form of seeing a beautiful picture, thinking about where I am and where I want to be… generally analyzing people, places, and things. I am very much in trapped my head and often forget to be a social person. Autumn is my favorite season, so I’m thrilled to enter it these days… I hope it sticks around for a few months.

For those unfamiliar with Jay, he’s an amazing—inexhaustible (!)—author and blogger residing in NYC.  The short link for Academic Curveball on Amazon is http://mybook.to/ACurveball while Goodreads’ link is https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41564460-academic-curveballWPJayUseB

The new book Broken Heart Attack will be available December 2018 and is also on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/series/242493-braxton-campus-mysteries (but the cover won’t be added for approximately four weeks).  Last but by no means least, his stand-alone novels, the aforementioned Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can also be purchased on Amazon.

Jay’s what I (and many bloggers/authors) aspire to be.  He’s also a kind and encouraging individual who selflessly offers constructive advice and [much] appreciated support.

Visit his blog (https://thisismytruthnow.com) to find—among other things—reviews and read-a-thons, and the introspective 365 Daily Challenge: “365 days of reflection to discover who I am and what I want out of life.”

 

 

Kalorama Road by E. Denise Billups

There’s something Allie can’t remember, hidden memories bordering consciousness that refuse to surface until one day someone, something, ignites horrifying images of a forgotten night.

FBSunThe above book blurb for E. Denise Billups third novel succinctly sums up Kalorama Road, an exciting rollercoaster ride of memories—intricate pieces that, in due course, complete a complex jigsaw puzzle.

Billups has a gift with words, no question.  She can paint vivid pictures (“an overwhelming scent of roses whirls gossamer coils about me”) that help us visualize the setting or locale and experience what characters are feeling, sensing, and undergoing.

What makes Kalorama Road stick out from others of its ilk is that the plot twists and twines not only through the lead character’s POV, Allie, but those of others.  When we’re in another character’s head, however, we’re never that far removed from Allie; we see her from another’s perspective.

The switches in POV would have proven more dynamic if characters had different voices.  No one in real life speaks the same—some use jargon and lingo, some have accents, and others display positive or negative tones or attitudes.  How characters communicate actions, details and thoughts would benefit from a few variances and idiosyncrasies.

There’s more telling than showing, which we’re often told as writers not to do, but it works.  It’s as if we’re invited to read various character’s diaries; as such, we receive a “confidential” sense of inner turmoil and personal conviction.  They all have quests and we’re pursuing them in tandem.  The mystery of that strange, terrifying night on Kalorama Road will be solved if it’s the last thing we do.

Kalorama Road could easily be a five-star book—with a little reworking of the POVs (and some punctuation/typo clean-up).  It has a bit of a “not final” draft feel, but it’s definitely worth a read.  So pull up a chair, grab the book and a coffee (as java-lover Allie undoubtedly would), and enjoy the twisty turns and zigzag slopes of a suspenseful (“slightly supernaturally-infused”) mystery.

Rating:   star2star2star2star2   4 out of 5

E. Denise Billups was born in Monroeville Alabama and raised in New York City where she currently resides and works in finance. A burgeoning author of fiction, she’s published three suspense novels, Kalorama Road, Chasing Victory, By Chance.

reviewpic1Social links for E. Denise Billups include:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Kalorama-Road-Denise-Billups-ebook/dp/B079J5YFYJ

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38340854-kalorama-road

Youtube: https://youtu.be/QhVJLy6QOK8

Reviewing the Art of the Review

Next week, you’ll find my second book review.  I’m excited (aiming do do one every two months and, hopefully, more frequently down the road).  This inspired me to pen a quick “refresher” post re writing one (see The ABCs of . . . Reviewing Reviewed).

If you’re new to writing reviews, or are thinking of setting up a book review blog, there are several things to consider, but let’s narrow it down so it’s not overly daunting.

The first thing to do is identify the book by author, title, and genre.  Then, add a bit of background and/or brief overview of storyline/plot.  Easy, right?  Of course!

In subsequent paragraphs, incorporate the following.  Be as detailed or succinct as you deem fit.

♦ Title:  Is it catchy, fitting the storyline/plot . . . good?

♦ Genre:  Does it fit the intended category?

♦ Storyline/Plot:  Is it easy to follow, logical, strong, intriguing?  (What’s the story about?)

♦ Characters:  Who are the main characters?  Were they believable?  Were there quests and issues to add tension, friction, or suspense?  Could you relate to any of them and if so, why?  (You may want to make mention of a favorite character.)  What about character POV: is it is logical / does it work?

♦ Did you like the book?  If you loved the book, state this.  If it was simply another well-written book, say so.  If you hated it, don’t claim you loved it, but be considerate when you provide a reason for not being enamored.  Remember: you didn’t write the book, someone else did.  We all have different writing styles and approaches; let’s respect that.BlogReview2

Make sure to include some author bio info—what he or she has previously written, any qualifications or awards, and website and/or blog links.

When offering a summation/conclusion, include an appraisal.  Would you recommend it?  Is there something you didn’t like about the book?  Maybe it wasn’t a five-star project in your estimation.  Why?  Is there something you would have done differently?

. . . Feel free to ding me if I follow my own recommendations/guidelines.   <LOL>

Father Figure by James J. Cudney

James J. Cudney IV (Jay) has penned a stellar personal-journey fiction novel.   As a fan of searching-for-self stories, where characters pursue truths and eventually realize them, I found Father Figure delivered precisely that—with all the requisite components.

The first few chapters roused distinctive memories and feelings that had long been buried for yours truly and wounds thought closed, proved raw once again.  When an author succeeds in evoking emotion, mission accomplished: the reader has been snared and secured.

The tale entwines the lives of two young women: Amalia in 1984 and 1985, and Brianna in 2004.  Jay has painted them vibrantly, with distinct and different personalities.  He’s captured the conflicting emotions of youthful awkwardness and confusing sexual awakening.  Also effectively depicted are the characters’ personal frustrations and angst, and that “suffering” patience only a loving parent can provide.

Reading Father Figure is like being a fly on a wall; you’re privy to secrets and private/intimate conversations.  Fathers—absent or dead—are key to Amalia and Brianna.  One has lost her beloved dad, the other has yet to find him.  We weave through their lives during crucial periods and in due course discover how they connect—in a rather clever way.

It’s hard not to feel—and despair—for Amalia.  You root for her strength and conviction, and applaud the love she holds for her father despite his flaws and weaknesses.  And you hope (like crazy) she’ll free herself of a self-centered, vicious mother.

Understanding what Amalia has had to endure, it was easy (and emotional) for me to relate to her struggles and emotions.  Brianna was a little more difficult; she was almost too self-absorbed to be likable.  Still, I could appreciate that impassioned search for self and the fixation re finding an unknowable father.

Throughout Father Figure, a strong sense of realism encompasses all senses.  You can see the cityscapes and countryscapes . . . smell grass, freshly baked scones and rich nutty brew . . . hear rural birds and insects, and bustling NYC transit and traffic.

It’s a wonderful, winding tale of quests and findings juxtaposed with twists and turns.  There are happy times and sad ones, and tragic if not terrible moments.  Will Amalia marry her inane beau?  Return to Mississippi to take care of her ailing mother?  Will she find true love with an older gent?  And what about Brianna?  Will she decide her sexual proclivity?  Finally find out about her father?  Return to New York to her mother?  Forgive, but not forget?

The narrative and descriptive components keep the reader engaged.  The novel could have been tightened a tad as it leaned toward long.  But, overall, Father Figure is a compelling suck-you-in-from-the-onset novel.

Rating: star2star2star2star2  4/5 

About the Author

NYC-based Jay is a prolific author and blogger first and foremost, but also a reader and reviewer, thinker, and genealogist and researcher.

After college, he took a technical writing position for a telecom company and spent 15 years developing a career in technology and business ops.  While doing so, he wrote short stories and poems, and—like many—dabbled with the “great American novel”.  Work being what it is, he couldn’t devote the required time to writing, so he left behind the 9-to-5+ world to focus on his passion full-time.

Look for Father Figure, as well as his first well-acclaimed book Watching Glass Shatter, on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/James-J.-Cudney

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Genre: Fiction

Setting: Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania,

Publisher: Creativa (April 3rd, 2018)

# of Pages: 430

ISBN-10: 1980727740

ISBN-13: 978-1980727743