Book Review: He Will Be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker

Simon & Schuster/Atria, February 2016

From bestselling author Tucker comes another suspenseful story of the secrets people try, and fail, to keep.

When Maggie Sparks goes to her friend’s apartment to pack Celine Gonzalez’s things, she has been told that Celine killed herself. The overdose of drugs and alcohol isn’t like her, though, so Maggie doesn’t know what to think.

Soon enough, secrets start coming to life. A series of journals detail the ways that Celine was making money…as an escort who started out only as a high-paid companion but who soon moved on to providing sex. Then there’s a naked photo of a wealthy man who works at the same building where Celine held her day job. And a sex tape shows up later, one that can bring down someone whose career and life would crumble if the tape was leaked.

Blackmail, a vase worth millions, hidden cameras and tech spying are also discovered along the way. Maggie discovers that a friendly elderly neighbor can help in her quest for the truth while also discovering a possible new romance for herself with the building manager.

The plot is complex and the pacing is strong. The characters are well drawn, especially the elderly neighbor who might have been a paper cutout in the hands of a different author. The suspects in the crime are also well presented, and readers won’t know for sure who’s really involved in pushing Celine to the edge until the very end.

There was some loss of momentum at the end. Once the mystery falls away, the story is less interesting because the character support for the criminal isn’t as intensive at that point. The story still provides a strong reading experience, however.

5 stars!

If you are interested in a similar type of work, try Reparation: A Novel of Love, Danger and Devotion.

I received an ARC from the publisher so I could write this review.

Reading in Berlin, Germany

On August 10, Laine Cunningham will read from The Family Made of Dust (formerly called Message Stick) and Reparation at the Takt Kunstprojectraum in Berlin, GermanyBoth novels deal with individuals from tribal communities who were historically forced into migrations to new locations; their stories interweave with the stories of the peoples who are now being forced to flee their homelands.

For more information, click here.

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Book Review: The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea

2005, Back Bay Books/Little, Brown

Oh, what a treat you’re in for if you haven’t yet picked up The Hummingbird’s Daughter. Written with a prose style so sharp and clean it flies along like the sprite in its title, this novel is a historical fiction piece based on a real woman.

Set during the time of the Mexican revolution, the story follows Teresita Urrea, a woman whose ability to heal others garners her the adoration reserved for saints. Starting with her early life, the narrative follows her family’s upheaval as they relocate the household to a place still attacked by Apache warriors.

There the father builds their new home, expands his business, and through it all, watches helplessly as his daughter–who only late was acknowledged as his child–draws around her the people who all seek some type of healing.

Just as Teresita was denied her father’s attention for the first years of her life, her teenage years are also not what might typically be found in the story of a saint. She suffers as much as any of the seekers who call her name. There are atrocities, some of which she witnesses being visited on others, and some of which are visited upon her. It is not always clear whether she will prevail.

Fortunately (for readers, anyway), there is a second book that continues this story. Urrea (the author) has also provided a glimpse into the strange and miraculous events that occurred while he researched this work; being able to read about these events arcs your thoughts back to the story and the compelling family met on these pages.

Pick this one up. You won’t regret it, I promise.

5 stars!

If you’d like to read a similar novel after this one, try The Family Made of Dust: A Novel of Loss and Rebirth in the Australian Outback (formerly called Message Stick).

Book Review: Between Two Fires by Mark Noce

Release date: August 2016 from Thomas Dunne Books

This power-packed historical novel is the first in a series…and it’s going to have readers beating on the publisher’s door for more.

Look, I’ll be the first to tell you that historical fiction can be a real slough. In the wrong author’s hands, novels set in any time period earlier than maybe 20 years ago can bog down in details…what folks wore, how they acted, the mores of their society, what their culture told them was right, how they rebelled…endless, really.

But in a strong author’s hands, historical fiction is a true delight. And that’s what Noce has delivered with Between Two Fires: a work that moves along briskly while providing everything they need to know to dive into the period. Never once will readers be left wondering, “What. What? Who? How did that happen?”

Part of the strength of this work comes from the depth Noce gives to the protagonist. Lady Branwen of Wales is the country’s last and final hope for unification…through marriage, of course. But the fellow she weds lives up to his nickname of Hammer King.

Meanwhile, Brandwen has been watching the rogue hedge knight Artagan, rumored to be as dark as his name, Blacksword. But he is more complex than that, and might be the only person she can rely on. Her mind is set against him but her heart has other plans.

As the lady becomes a queen and then flees from her realm, Saxons invade. The romance and intrigue take on a depth that comes entirely from the well-drawn characters painted atop the historic backdrop.

There are some elements about the descriptions that are repetitive. These are fairly minor but several did throw me out of the fictional world for just a few beats. Readers of this type of work can be trusted to follow along, and hopefully the rest of the books in this series will eliminate those types of blips. Generally, this was a strong showing. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!

5 stars!

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Book Review: The Sanctum by Pamela King Cable

Michael Brown. Miriam Carey. Trayvon Martin. Tanisha Anderson. We all know their names, and every time their names are spoken, we hear the ringing alarms that tell us that racism is as alive and well today as ever in American history. Now this same dark history is brought into the light in a Christian novel called The Sanctum by Pamela King Cable.

Thrown into the care of her alcoholic grandfather, Neeley McPherson is raised by his elderly farmhand named Gideon, a black man she grows to love. In the winter of 1959, she is only thirteen but has already experienced true horrors. When Gideon is accused of stealing a watch and using a whites-only restroom, she stands defiantly against everything wrong in the world and breaks him out of jail.

Catfish Cole, Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon of the Carolinas, pursues them across the Blue Ridge Mountains. After ice sends Gideon’s truck down a steep slope, they hike through a blizzard and arrive at a wolf sanctuary where Neeley crosses the bridge between the real and the supernatural.

There she discovers her grandfather’s deception, confronts the Klan, finds her faith in God, and uncovers the shocking secrets of the family who befriends her. The act of providing sanctuary leads to another tragedy but second chances and the defeat of prejudice grant Neeley’s most passionate desire.

In prose that touches on the shadowy noir of Gothic Southern fiction, this tale of suffering carries readers through the darkness and into the light of hope…hope for the characters and hope for America. Blending the awareness of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird with the social astuteness of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and a faith in the transformational power of love found in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, this timeless coming-of-age novel is a powerful commentary on what we once were…and what we can all become.

5 stars!

Pam’s other novels are also steeped in Bible-belt mystery and paranormal suspense. Televenge, the story of a woman who realizes her megachurch is actually a religious cult, has attracted attention from Fox News, CBS Atlanta, a major Hollywood film producer, and bloggers and media outlets worldwide.

She is also the author of Southern Fried Women, a collection of short stories that touch the heart.

Writing about her own fiction, she says:

“For me, it is within sanctuaries of brick and mortar; places of clapboard and canvas that characters hang ripe for picking. From the primitive church services of the mountain clans to the baptisms and sacraments in cathedrals and synagogues all over the world. From the hardworking men and women who testify in every run-down house of God in America to the charismatic high-dollar high-tech evangelicals televised in today’s megachurches, therein lie stories of unspeakable conflict, the forbidden, and often, the unexplained.”

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Author Interview: Pamela King Cable

Today we’re joined by Pamela King Cable, author of the chilling Televenge and the heartwarming Southern Fried Women. Her latest, The Sanctum, is a moving coming-of-age story dealing with one of America’s most pressing issues: racism. The novel features King’s usual blend of supernatural elements, mysteries in society and secrets of the heart to create evocative, heart-piercing stories.

How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

I could get myself in trouble, answering this question. If somebody tells you they’re not writing to make money, they are lying to you. We all want paid for our work. If a painter gets paid for his masterpieces, if a landscaper pockets cash for the curb appeal he adds to his client’s homes, and if a caterer makes a living on the weddings and parties she slaves over, then a writer should get paid for her books that took years to complete and publish.

But if you think the money comes easy, think again. You’re not going to get rich. In fact, keep your job. Writing will not pay your bills. Not for a long time. There’s a balance, and unfortunately it’ll take blood, sweat, and tears to find it. The writing and publishing industry is in desperate need of a major overhaul. Know that up front.

Realize the length of time it takes from finishing the novel to publication is painfully long. Some hip, cool publisher needs to find a way to shorten that time period and pass it on to a few of the old goats in the business. Know that the industry has set itself up as a God to the writer. Twenty-three-year-old New York City editors should not be allowed to judge a writer’s work.

Another warning to the newbie—be aware of the old, worn-out process of retailers returning your unsold books. It’s still the most ridiculous part of this business. Total nonsense. If the Gap can’t return its unsold blue jeans to the Levi Company, why should Barnes & Noble be allowed to return its unsold books to the publisher? This is an antiquated process that needs to stop. Now.

Newbies in this business—get your heads out of the clouds and see the writing world for what it truly is. If after you’ve done that, and you still want to write and publish … then do it with your eyes wide open to one final realization. It takes no less than ten years of writing, rewriting, and learning your craft before you are actually ready to publish.

Now, with all that said … there is no greater sense of accomplishment than leaving a legacy of a hard-earned published book. Nothing greater than that …

From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?

I will refer you to my answer in question one. All of the above are big challenges. But instead of fancy/schmancy writing conferences that charge an arm and a leg, and teach you the same worn-out topics they taught you last year and the year before, let’s stop the madness of empty promises. Promises of editor and literary agent contacts. Do you realize how slim your chances are that those editors and literary agents will even remember your name? We need a Writer’s Convention where round table discussions result in finding real solutions to the serious issues at hand.

The problem is that writing is a solitary business.  We all work alone. And we like it that way. But until we confront the current issues and make strides to change them, the publishing world will continue to be run by the big dogs … the Mahogany Row Executives who really don’t give a damn about our issues. Their bottom line is all that matters. In the case of traditional publishing, they got us over a barrel and they know it.

What has inspired you to become a writer?

I write about religion and spirituality with paranormal twists unearthed from my family’s history. I write about my passions, what moves me, what shoots out of me like a rocket. My key inspirational force is my spirituality.

I was born in the South, a coal miner’s granddaughter, but my father escaped the mines, went to college and moved his family to Ohio to work for the rubber companies in 1959. I spent every weekend as a little girl traveling back to the Appalachian Mountains. My memories of my childhood run as strong as a steel-belted radial tire and as deep as an Appalachian swimming hole. As a little girl, I was a transplanted hick in a Yankee schoolroom. I grew up in the North. So my influence comes naturally from both regions. But the dusty roads in the coal towns of the ‘sixties are where my career as a writer was born.

How do you come up with your characters, and how do you make them interesting?

For me, it is within sanctuaries of brick and mortar; places of clapboard and canvas that characters hang ripe for picking. From the primitive church services of the mountain clans to the baptisms and sacraments in cathedrals and synagogues all over the world. From the hardworking men and women who testify in every run-down house of God in America to the charismatic high-dollar high-tech evangelicals televised in today’s megachurches, therein lie stories of unspeakable conflict, the forbidden, and often, the unexplained.

Do you plan on writing any other genres?

Not at all. There’s a mountain of material to cover in Historical Fiction. It’s like a black hole, drawing me in with no end in sight. I have stories in my head that may never see the light of day. There’s so little time allotted to any of us. It would take two lifetimes to get these stories from my head onto the page.

What inspired your new novel, The Sanctum?

Late in 2008, and for the next two years, I labored over a new story to give myself a break from the heat and intensity of Televenge. Little did I know of the fierce obsession and passion that would overtake me in writing The Sanctum. Wanting to include the possibility of the paranormal and spirituality from different points of view, I focused on a young girl with fuzzy, red hair who called herself Neeley, and the story began.

This skinny, parentless thirteen-year-old who wore thick eyeglasses and hand-me-down dresses captivated me from page one. Placing my little redheaded girl on a tobacco farm in 1959, and in the caring hands of an elderly African-American male, a rugged individual who wasn’t afraid of his gentle side, I quickly fell in love with them. The novel slowly wrote itself, dragging my heart behind it.

Many of my stories are based on people I’ve known and places I’ve been. History also plays a great part in my work. As a writer it is my desire to transport a reader’s mind—but my ultimate joy is to pierce your heart. When I was a little girl someone in my family taught me respect for all people. He said we were related to the great Martin Luther King since after all, my maiden name is King. I soon realized it wasn’t true, but I never forgot what he said. Later, I discovered blatant prejudice had incubated for decades within my family. My southern grandparents believed wholeheartedly in segregation.

For over a decade I lived near Summerfield, North Carolina, located northwest of Greensboro. This area is historically saturated with horse and tobacco farms, which today still dot the landscape. By chance I discovered James W. Cole (1924-1967) was ordained into the ministry in Summerfield at the Wayside Baptist Church in 1958. He toured as a tent evangelist and broadcast a Sunday morning radio program, becoming an active member of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and eventually the Grand Dragon of North and South Carolina. The man intrigued and appalled me, and since the first part of the book takes place in Summerfield during that time period, I wrote him into the story.

The International Civil Rights Center and Museum is located in the recently restored Woolworth’s building in downtown Greensboro, a Woolworth’s that also found its way into my story. As I further studied the Civil Rights Movement, I thought of it in terms of rights for all people. My great grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee, according to our family’s historian. So I then researched the Trail of Tears.

And finally the wolf appeared. An animal that has fascinated me all my life, the wolf is about family and order. It is a subtle character, but a voice to be reckoned with. I studied wolves carefully, and found people who loved the animal enough to create wolf sanctuaries. I spent time on a sanctuary near the town of Bakersville in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a five-hour drive from my home. When I arrived a sign read, The Wolf Sanctum. From that moment I called my novel, The Sanctum.

 Have you written other books that have been published?

 Southern Fried Women, Satya House Publications, 2010. Beth Hoffman, New York Times Bestselling Author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Looking For Me, said:

“With a clear Southern voice and a remarkable gift of storytelling, Pamela King Cable has crafted a masterful collection of short stories. In themes ranging from flea markets to coal mine strikes, Southern Fried Women speaks of the wounds, joys, and sacrifices experienced by women who held strong in the winds of adversity and emerged bruised but miraculously unbroken. Each story is as thought provoking as it is beautifully written.”

Televenge, Satya House Publications,  2012. A review in Publisher’s Weekly notes:

“Cable’s unflinching fictional exposé of the dark side of televangelism has a human victim in the person of Andie Oliver. … Cable, a former member of a megachurch, places Andie’s desperate struggle against the oppression of (Reverend) Artury’s church, its brutal inner circle, murderous practices, financial fraud, and (husband) Joe’s abuse. This powerful story, skillfully written and with well-drawn characters, reveals the classic entrapment of vulnerable people in the name of a vengeful god …”

Library Journal wrote:

Televenge is “ … an emotional rollercoaster that ends as intensely as it begins . . . those who commit to Cable’s tome will find themselves captivated and deeply devoted to Andie. Fans of Fannie Flagg and Janet Evanovich will be hooked on this saga of religion, romance, and crime.” Library Journal Editor’s Pick BookExpo America 2012

Do you have a website and a blog? If so where can we find it?

You can find my blog on my website: www.pamelakingcable.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/southernfriedwomen/

Twitter: https://Twitter.com/pamelakingcable / @pamelakingcable

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2935883.Pamela_King_Cable

To purchase The Sanctum: http://www.amazon.com/Sanctum-Pamela-King-Cable/dp/1938499034/

The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones

The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones

Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Told in alternating segments that switch between different times (3 timelines total: one current, one in the recent past, and one roughly a century ago) and places, the narrative finally settles primarily into the now.
Considering the vast geography (several European nations) and time covered, and considering the idea at the heart of the story, this work should have been more compelling than it was. But I found the characterization lacking. This likely is due to the vast territories and timelines the story covers, and so isn’t really a flaw. Books that deliver this type of story don’t have much space for character development. Considering those constraints, then, the author has done a fine job getting readers to care about the people in this book.
The supernatural elements…and the fact that the shapeshifter hunts a specific family throughout time and down through the generations…is a fantastic concept. Overall, this is quite an enjoyable work that can be your next beach read.

4 stars

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