Review: ‘The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl’ by Theodora Goss

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #3)The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first whisperings of the three novels in “The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club” series can be found in Theodora Goss’ doctoral dissertation “The monster in the mirror: late Victorian Gothic and anthropology.” In fact, the members of the club–Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, Lucinda Van Helsing, and Lydia Raymond–often call themselves monsters because they were created by amoral mad scientists.

Athena club members and other primary characters in the series are drawn from (or inspired by) the works of H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Arthur Machen, and Oscar Wilde. The genius behind these multi-layered novels comes not only from their accuracy of the Victorian era and its literature but from the fact that Goss has taken characters from multiple books and fit them hand-in-glove into a delightfully inventive and readable series.

Several years ago, Goss told an interviewer, “What really inspired me was reading the original texts for my Ph.D. in English literature. I wrote a doctoral dissertation on late-19th-century gothic fiction and started noticing that there were a lot of mad scientists running around in the 19th century — and that a lot of those mad scientists either thought of creating or actually created female monsters.”

The monsters of the Athena Club–who often quibble with each other in specially formatted bits of conversation–about the progress of “The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl” solve mysteries using (somewhat) the approach of Mary Jekyll’s friend and mentor Sherlock Holmes. While their powers of deduction aren’t as pure as Holmes’, their special powers provide them with talents Holmes doesn’t have. (Inspector Lestrade doesn’t like them and they don’t like him.)

They react to bad things that happen; this time it’s the simultaneous disappearance of their household maid Alice, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and, as it turns out, a threat against the British empire. Near the end of the book, when the women in the club are admonished to stay out of of mischief, Mary Jekyll says, “We don’t get into mischief. It sort of happens to us, or around us, or in our general vicinity.”

Most readers will see that comment as an understatement and as part of the charm of the books. The Athena Club is not a covert black ops group but a family of good monsters who often finds itself trying to thwart the plans of evil monsters. In this series, the women prevail as those who are setting things to rights. On the way to saving the day, the Athena Club’s debates tend to keep everyone grounded, such as when Catherine Moreau, who’s ostensibly recording the group’s adventures, says, “You realize that to a puma, you’re all just meat?”

Sure, they can all kill each other, but going after the bad guys is more fulfilling.

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New Pages: a great resource

NewPages.com is news, information, and guides to literary magazines, independent publishers, creative writing programs, alternative periodicals, indie bookstores, writing contests, and more.New Pages

Literary magazines and writing contests have been a traditional training ground for aspiring writers for years. Some magazines pay. Some don’t. Contests usually pay, but sometimes offer publication and author’s copies. Either way, they give writers a way to practice their craft and potentially earn a few dollars and some writing references.

If you look at the website of a successful author, you will often see a long list of literary magazines where his/her work has appeared; so, too, grants and fellowships. Traditionally, mainstream/large press publishing has found these credentials more important than some of the newer small presses because the “resume material” helped show an aspiring writer had already received some validation elsewhere. While those who self publish don’t need a resume to publish a Kindle or CreateSpace book, magazine credits and awards still look nice on the website.

Many writers rely on the Poets & Writers database of upcoming writing competitions, grant opportunities, and fellowships. As a writer, I think more is more when it comes to keeping up with resources. So, I highly recommend New Pages. They offer multiple resources in addition to information about literary magazines, bookstores, competitions, as well as book reviews.  One unique feature is their publication of the titles of books received for review. This is kind of nice whether your book is reviewed there or not.

They also review literary magazines and keep readers up to date on news magazines. This feature helps authors choose where to submit as well as an easy way to learn more about the magazines before sending in an MS.

This is a writer-friendly site with multiple menu selections, options, and resources. It’s been around for a while and has a good handle on the subjects it presents.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s short story “Shock Treatment” appears in the Tulip Tree Publishing’s 2019 anthology “Stories That Need to be Told.”

 

 

 

Creating ARC Copies: A How-To

Once upon a time, Publisher’s Weekly asked for a review copy of a children’s book our small press had in the works. We were new to the business then and had no clue how to accommodate them, so we lost the opportunity for a high-profile review. Ouch! Now that I know better, I won’t make the same mistake again. Better still, I’ll share what I’ve learned so you won’t, either.

Source: Creating ARC Copies: A How-To | Celebrating Independent Authors

I saw a post by author Hope Clark in which she said that she buys copies of her books and sends them out to her favorite readers prior to publication so that then her books go live, there’s a batch of reviews ready to go. (She’s at a mid-seized publisher and buys the books at cost because many publishers don’t send out review copies any more.)

For the same reason, think about creating advance reader copies (ARCs) of your books so that you can send them to review sites before your books are published. In fact, major review sites won’t look at a book after its publication date; many of them expect a copy four months in advance.

You may not get in Kirkus or Book List, but it’s worth the time an effort, I think, to try. This post at Indies Unlimited takes you through the basics. Reviews early on in a book’s life not only draw more readers but improve how your book is displayed on sites like Amazon or in book newsletters.

Malcolm

 

Review: ‘The President is Missing by Clinton and Patterson

The President Is MissingThe President Is Missing by Bill Clinton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Those of us who write novels would probably sell out our own grandmothers to collaborate with a former popular President of the United States. The good news is this: the book delivers.

I found myself thinking about the mechanics of collaboration. Did Clinton approach Patterson or did Patterson approach, Clinton? Who wrote what? Who thought of the plot? We may never know. But the plot and presentation succeed because they focus on cyber-warfare or cyber-terrorism, both of which seem to be a real threat these days. That’s the strength of the story: it focuses on a fear many of us have.

The President of the book is believable. (I would hope so.) He’s facing prospective impeachment, something the country lives with every day. He takes risks that make sense to the reader even before we know the extent of the danger. What more could one ask of a chief executive?

We have an unusual mix here: prospective terrorists offering to help the U.S. A potential traitor in the administration’s inner circle. Who can the President trust? The reader might wonder, has any of this happened already and still remains classified?

The novel has a satisfactory conclusion. I could have done without the Presidential address to Congress near the end of the novel because it focused not only on the political polarization within the novel but spoke the polarization of views outside the novel, that is to say, the fact that parties and individuals can’t seem to work together for the common good. Yes, they should be able to do that, but the end of the novel seemed to be a bit of an editorial.

This novel is an entertaining read about issues that might (one day or already) impact the U.S. and other Western nations. It’s food for thought about our dependence on the Internet and about how the nation could or should react to cyber threats. One suspects that Clinton’s knowledge of the presidency brings realism to the story. The scary thing about the book–and why one keeps reading–is that it seems all too real.

Malcolm

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Review: ‘Redemption Road’ by John Hart

Redemption RoadRedemption Road by John Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s enough darkness in this book to cause an eclipse of the sun soon after you begin reading. Elizabeth, the protagonist is a good cop with a good heart that is filled with life-affirming love and infinite grit. Her past was cruel to her and it’s neither gone nor forgotten.

Her story in this thriller will carry you through the darkness stemming from multiple characters whose self-righteous evil is as unflinching as Elizabeth’s heart. Thirteen years prior to the beginning of the novel, a policeman was convicted of killing a young woman and leaving her body on the altar of the church where Elizabeth’s father preaches. Elizabeth, who was a rookie cop at the time thought he was wrongly convicted. As a cop, he has a hard time surviving prison. When he gets out, the killings start again with the same MO. This appears to prove that everyone else on the police force is right about him and that Elizabeth is naive.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth is having her own troubles with the authorities over a case she’s involved in. The plot is complex and well constructed, the writing is superb, and the characters have more dimensions, secrets, and agonies than you can shake a stick at. At all times, the notion of a redemption road out of this chaos seems to many as an unlikely nirvana or simply a dead end.

The story is adeptly told and highly recommended.

–Malcolm

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Review: ‘The Bishop’s Pawn’ by Steve Berry

The Bishop's Pawn (Cotton Malone, #13)The Bishop’s Pawn by Steve Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Those who enjoy FBI and police procedurals, black ops, off-the-grid agencies, and loose-cannon agents will find a lot to like in this story from the long-running Cotton Malone series. Berry focuses on the FBI’s vendetta against the Martin Luther King, Jr. and his death on April 4, 1968. Malone is contacted because some old documents about King’s assassination are about to come to light. The old guard wants them destroyed (if they exist), while current investigators want the truth to come out.

Malone is thrust right into the middle of a playing field of rogue agents and underworld characters that are nothing like the day-to-day life of a JAG lawyer. He has skills, but he’s new at fighting bad guys on the street who are well-practiced at being bad guys. This is the genius of the book: a novice thrust into a volatile mix because those who ask him to go there appreciate the fact he’s a loose cannon.

The story holds together even though the characters Malone confronts have hidden and dangerous agendas or otherwise aren’t who they seem to be.

If there’s a flaw in the book, it’s the fact that it requires a lot of backstory to make sense to readers who weren’t around during the King era. This is the same issue people had with “The Da Vinci Code.” Without Dan Brown’s constant teaching, the story wouldn’t make sense even though that teaching bogged down the book. The teaching in this book bogs it down because quite a few words are devoted to it.

Nonetheless, I found the book compelling. It’s certainly a must read for those interested in the 1960s civil rights movement and the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Malcolm

‘Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder’

“Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder.” 
― Raymond Chandler

I just finished a novel (see picture) that was 99% technique and 1% nonsense. The author used a technique that’s so ubiquitous these days, it’s got to be more than a fad. It’s an epidemic.

It works like this. You’re reading a high-stakes chapter, probably a thriller, and at the end of the chapter something untoward happens such as, “Bob kicked open the door and noticed 25 men pointing their guns at him.”

You turn the page wondering, more than idly, how the hero’s going to get out of this mess. Do you find out? No. What you see is the beginning of a new section of the book called SIX MONTHS EARLIER and most of that section seems completely irrelevant or, in writer talk: a very intrusive backstory.

There’s no passion in this, and I’m not talking about the kind of passion Raymond Chandler was referring to when he wrote, “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.” The story would have been more interesting if it had been a house of cards rather than a house of gimmicks.

The story lacked passion because when it came down to it the story and the characters didn’t really matter. Instead, they were cheap tricks strung together like the kind of necklace you can buy at a pawn shop for a couple of bucks. Unfortunately, the book cost more than that and didn’t have the gumption to acknowledge that, when compared to cheap hookers, it was more false.

The novel, written by an author whom the blurbs said was the next Stephen King or the next Michael Crichton, had an inventive beginning in which a passenger jet arrives at a small airport where the flight pilot and copilot discover that everyone on the ground is apparently dead. Unfortunately, the main characters immediately out themselves as dysfunctional. Suddenly, the novel reminds me of Chandler’s line, “From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.”

At a distance, the story has possibilities worthy of King and Chrichton. Up close, it’s dysfunctional characters and a lot of technique. The author has chosen a distasteful stew of technique, characters who are too broken to even speak to each other, and techno-speak with which to engineer this costume jewelry of a story.

Here’s a spoiler: Google, we learn, might be developing products that aren’t good for us even though they have plenty of technique in them and look like they are good for us. Well, that’s hardly a new idea. Nonetheless, it’s the driving force behind why the ground crew at the airport seem to be dead.

In the final analysis, there’s nothing to see here or, as Chandler says, “The moment a man begins to talk about technique that’s proof that he is fresh out of ideas.”

It takes guts, I think, to tell a story straight rather than relying on stale smoke and cloudy mirrors. Dead on Arrival is dead on arrival.

Malcolm