Review: The See-Through Leopard

Some books tell a great, entertaining story.

Some books inform and educate, even if they are presented as fiction.

Some books tap into your emotions and make you feel.

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The See-Through Leopard does it all.

At the age of 15, self-absorbed Jazz Hooper forgets a book for school and makes her mom go back home to get it. In a hurry, her mom is more focused on Jazz’s lack of seatbelt than the road and runs a red light. She’s struck by a lorry and killed.

Jazz is left disfigured by scars and depressed. She despises herself and struggles with the rejection she experiences from former friends who mock her appearance mercilessly at school.

When the book starts Jazz is 16 and just finishing up school. She learns her dad has decided to go back to Kenya, where Jazz was conceived, and is furious that he is forcing her to go with him. Her life, until the accident, had been about clothes and makeup and boys; her parents’ interest in animals had never been a priority to her.

She was miserable in England but isn’t any happier in Kenya at first. When she’s ridiculed by guests at the lodge on the reserve she and her dad are working at she runs off, despite the warnings to not wander on her own. An orphaned leopard cub finds her and ultimately, Jazz convinces her dad and 18-year-old Zach to let her try to raise the cub and return it to the wild. In order for them to agree she had to commit herself to seeing it through and she has to work with Zach and let him make a documentary.

Jazz is able to put aside her fear of being filmed for the sake of Asha, the leopard cub. As she works with Zach they form a close bond but she is afraid to take the chance of risking his friendship by sharing how she feels.

Poachers and people who trade in wildlife for circuses threaten Asha and other animals, and the more Jazz learns and sees, the less she mourns the dreams she had that died along with her mom. But will she have the courage to embrace the chances she has for a happy future?

This is a really inspiring story. When I started it, my initial thought was, “Crap. I can’t read this. I’m going to ugly cry.” And I cried a lot. The author doesn’t pull punches about issues facing wildlife, or about grief, but Jazz’s journey from a self-absorbed teen to a depressed girl to a young woman is inspiring and the strong emotional connection with the character is one of the reasons that this book will be one I remember for years to come. A great YA/coming-of-age story with the bonus of providing a lot of information about endangered species and the threats wildlife face from poachers today.

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Issue 20: Risky Business

Back before Christmas, but after I’d made my 2018 recap, I had a chance to read Imogen’s Secret  and Imogen’s Journey. Absolutely could not put these novels down, so I reached out to the author to ask a few questions and B Fleetwood talks about how a novel became a trilogy and what’s next for Imogen.

Micah Dean Hicks picks the Playlist for Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones. And note: tonight Micah Dean Hicks has an event in Florida. Details at the end of the playlist.

Of Elections and Influences: How the 2016 Election Inspired Libby Fischer Hellmann’s HIGH CRIMES

Barbara Winkes chats about her new book, Killer Instinct, and talks about her writing spaces.

Almost forgot … my review of The 19th Bladesman. It should have run elsewhere, but the site wasn’t one I wanted to continue working with, so here it is.

Did You Miss It?

Brian wrote about his favorite TV Characters, posted another Eclectic Mayhem and shared his best reads of 2018.

Plus, Issue 19 went live a few weeks ago, with Isabella Maldonado, Dana King and Susanna Beard.

Risky Business: Stepping Out Side Our Comfort Zones

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There will always be something to react to on social media, and the publishing world has given us plenty lately.

Yesterday, when I saw saw some of the responses to Jason Heller’s thread, the top tweet here was the one that had been retweeted. Now, if you go to the thread this is part of and start at the actual top, the response made more sense.

But as it was, what I saw that seemed to be the source of ire was these two tweets. And I have no issue with them at all. Heller is absolutely correct – each person makes a choice about how to approach their craft.

He’s also very right about something else that doesn’t have to do with money. He’s right about the fact that writers are often approaching their craft from a comfort zone and afraid to take risks. I’m not talking about with earning a living; I’m talking about taking chances to blend genres and push boundaries.

To even push ourselves.

There’s a real wisdom here that has been obscured by the tweets that came before. I get why some people are defensive about the money thing (Heller encouraged quitting the day job and writing) and unwilling to go there. Forget about that. I am not talking about that.

I am simply talking about the balls-free approach to writing that so many have settled for. In this past year I wrote a manuscript outside my genre. So far outside it scared the crap out of me. It ended up being a passion project that I fell in love with. It forced me to stretch as a writer.

I didn’t want to let it go. I was ready to be done writing police procedurals, to put crime writing behind me.

And then along came another character. Something I learned in the process of writing that passion project infused with this character and she didn’t just tap on my shoulder and suggest we spend some time together. Nope. She showed me the story.

I started writing January 9. Yesterday, I finished what I’m calling an unprocedural. It may be crime, and the character may be a cop, but it is far outside the lines of what I’ve done with any of my books to date. It’s personal and messy and – like that passion project I penned last year – it made me cry writing it.

Again, I have a manuscript I don’t want to let go of. For the second time in less than a year I’ve finished something I’m voluntarily re-reading. Since I re-read and revise as I go I’m usually sick of it by the time I’ve written the final words.

Not this time.

I credit how I feel about these two books to taking personal risks and infusing more of myself into the narrative. Not that the books are about me, but because I have found my emotions that connect to the character’s stories and channeled that into them.

Even at the end of this story, I wrote the last chapter and then the next day had to sit down and write it again, because there’s a second POV character in this book and I realized that I’d sidestepped the emotional depth of the scene by looking at it through the wrong eyes.

Will it matter to anyone else? Who knows. What I know is that I am most proud of these two manuscripts, and the short story I wrote last year, Crossing Jordan. That was very personal, because one of my parents is trans, but still very much in the closet day to day.

Frankly, the overwhelming majority of us aren’t making much money writing. Why should I worry about writing to formula, convention or expectations when there’s so little to gain from it?

Instead, I will take those risks, step outside my comfort zone, push myself to grow. I may not have royalty checks to cash, but I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that I didn’t play it safe.

Imogen’s Story: B Fleetwood talks about how a novel became a trilogy and what’s next for Imogen

Haven’t heard of B. Fleetwood? Let’s correct that right now. I had the opportunity to read both Imogen’s Secret and Imogen’s Journey not that long ago and they are already perched on top of my best 2019 entertainment list. I could not put these books down. Ya/Coming of Age Sci Fi with a bit of romance, some tremendous worldbuilding and a riveting plot that keeps you turning the pages all hours of the day and night. I finished both books in a matter of a few days and just had to catch up with the author to find out a little more about Imogen, the idea for the story, and where things will go in book 3.

Buy Imogen’s Secret

Buy Imogen’s Journey

51jg7gt99tlThere’s a lot of worldbuilding in the Chroma series books, and there’s also a very compelling cast of characters. What came first for you – the worldbuilding or Imogen? How did Holis affect Imogen’s character as she took shape?

Imogen came first. I had imagined a character with the ability to ‘see’ lies for many years, long before I put pen to paper.

When I began to seriously consider why my main protagonist would have the ability to read Chroma, or auras (I did not want this to be a magical power), I decided there needed to be a genetic reason for her gift. Writing the first chapter, it came to me; Imogen had to be of another race, a race that had been genetically engineered. This would allow her to have all sorts of other differences, like her ability to absorb information, ‘read’ thoughts by touch and for her body to self-heal.

It became crucial to her character development for the truth to have been hidden from her; she could not know she was from the planet Holis. I wanted her and the reader to fathom it out together. As Holis developed as a tangible place, Imogen’s abilities crystallised on the page. As a new author, I am rather in awe of how her character evolved.

 

515lgq7ukalConsidering all the talk about global warming and damage to our planet, your series is both incredibly entertaining and captivating, and also timely. Every now and again we hear about other planets that have been discovered that might be capable of sustaining life. Do you think if we had the capability to reach such a planet that we’d learn from our mistakes or repeat them? Was this something that inspired you as you developed the series? (What did inspire you?) 

I studied Sociology at University, fascinated with what makes a society ‘tick’ and conversely, what makes societies break down.

I believe there must be planets out there that would support human life or alien lifeforms.

Would we make the same mistakes if we reached them? This intrigues me. I don’t have a clear answer. Do humans have a basic destructive nature they cannot escape or a capacity for nobler action? The optimist in me wants to believe humans are capable of rising above greed, self-interest and perpetuating differences. In Chroma, my superior Holans look at Earth with much disdain. And whilst it’s easy to despair of our race, I believe there is an integrity / spark within us all which, if encouraged, will allow the human race to advance to a point where we would learn from our mistakes.

 

You’ve billed this as a trilogy. Did you have a clear plan for all three books from the start? How much advance plotting did you do before you started writing? 

My decision to create Holis transformed Imogen’s Secret from a standalone novel into the first of a trilogy – I had not planned this in advance. It honestly just ‘came to me’ with an unshakeable conviction: it had to be more than one book. I knew if I was the reader, reading Imogen’s Secret, I would want to go to her home planet and see how it all worked. For a few weeks, during the writing of Imogen’s Journey, I considered finishing the tale in two books (I think I was feeling rather daunted by the task!) but as Holis became more than a vague imagining, I realised there would have to be a third book in order to do justice to the story.

 

Which character do you relate to the most in the books and why?

It would have to be Imogen. She finds out there is a whole new world out there and she cannot take things at face value if she wants to uncover the truth. She goes from being passive to active. This directly relates to the revelations I experienced at University – my coming of age –discovering the world was not all as my parents had painted it and the start of questioning everything!

 

There definitely seems to be a connection between Imogen’s people and sites on earth, such as the pyramids. Some people do believe the pyramids were built by aliens. What do you think? Or is this something you just wanted to play with in the story?

I have visited Egypt and been astounded at the building of the pyramids, temples and obelisks. The race was so advanced for the time. Do I believe aliens intervened? Not really, but I decided to play with this in the story. It makes a great link to how Holan folk ended up on Earth (more to be revealed in Book 3!).

 

There are five personality lines on Holis – Ra, Iris, Nut, Hathor and Amon Anon. If you could only choose one of those personality lines to be, which one would you pick and why?

The five lines have been lifted from general psychological theories (still used in management evaluations today). Whilst I don’t like putting people in boxes, I can see that personality traits are more dominant in some folk than others. If I had to pick just one, I guess it would be Iris (creative and imaginative – or over imaginative perhaps?) or maybe I’d be a Bi-Crypt with Hathor (compassionate and caring – I cry at the slightest thing!) as the other line? This is mainly because I don’t fit the other lines; I’m neither dominant or decisive, calm or disciplined!

BTW: the name, Iris, was originally Isis (the Egyptian Goddess) but I felt compelled to change the name to Iris after the militant terrorist group took Isis as their name. Grrr… An example of how politics influences writing!

 

If you were Imogen would it be Araz or Tarik?

Araz! The chemistry is compelling; however, he would need to lose his arrogance and grow Tarik’s sense of humour to be completely perfect!

 

Whether intended or not, there’s certainly some political commentary the books make in a subtle way. The people from Imogen’s home planet don’t even seem to question their leaders, which leads to abuse and manipulation from those in power. Was this intentional or is it just coincidence that it feels so timely given the current state of politics around the globe?

The lack of challenge by the Holan populace was intentional. With no conflicts, no disparity and no enemy, I decided to portray Holans as having become complacent in their ‘idyllic’ lives. I am also influenced by the political state of the world and the seemingly incomprehensible decisions made by supposedly intelligent beings. Just because a race is superior in intellect, it doesn’t necessarily mean they would not make the same mistakes.

 

Give us a teaser for book 3. What do we have to look forward to? What do we have to fear?

Imogen, separated from Holis and Araz, must unlock Kekara’s secret, stolen from her chambers. Could it have anything to do with the new direction being taken by the Holan regime? The reason the history of Holis has been re-written?

Imogen is unaware the regime has developed a hybrid version of the Repros. Will they follow her and can her family keep her safe?

Desperate to see Araz again and unsure if the Tractus link will be broken between their two planets, Imogen fears for Araz’s safety. She also cannot squash her unease knowing he is twenty light years away with Naomi – a penta-crypt just like her. Could this clone replace her in Araz’s affections? And is the prophecy true? Either Imogen or Naomi must die?

As the growing evil on Holis threatens to come to Earth, Imogen must fight to decide where her true destiny lies.

Teetering on the Nightstand: Barbara Winkes talks about works from Tess Gerritsen, Alexandra Sokoloff, Christina Dalcher and more

What are some of the titles in your current TRB pile?

Where Are You, a romance about college best friends that fell in love, but lost touch and meet again in the present, Breaking Steele (#3 of the Jasmine Steele Mysteries), and Rise of the Darkwitch (LGBT YA Fantasy). What’s next will depend on time and mood, but with Halloween approaching, the fantasy novel might be a good idea.

What book are you currently reading?

The first book in Max Ellendale’s Four Point Trilogy. A female cop hunting a serial killer? I’m there. I’ve always thought of this premise as a metaphor of the fight against patriarchy (at least in fiction, it usually comes with the desired outcome).

414myifeqnlWhat do you hope to add to your TBR pile soon and why?

I’m always up for the next good thriller, but I’ve come across a book called Vox, a dystopian novel. Women are only allowed to speak a 100 words a day, and the main character is challenging that rule. It might make me too mad at the moment. Alexandra Sokoloff’s The Huntress/FBI thrillers look interesting to me (a female serial killer, vigilante justice), and so does The Book Addict by Annette Mori (a lesbian romance with a bit of magic. I have read more by this author, and her stories are always outside the box. Since I’m not a genre purist, I appreciate that). I have my comfort genres, but I also like contrast.

Bonus: Which author do you want to see have a new book out soon?

I’d love to see a new book in Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles series. I have a few favorite serials. Coming back to them is always like meeting with old friends you haven’t seen in a while. I find it very comforting – even if the content isn’t. And a new book by Karin Slaughter that featuring Lena Adams (for the same reasons).

 

Check out Barbara’s Q&A about Cypher!

 

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Barbara Winkes writes suspense and romance with lesbian characters at the center. She has always loved stories in which women persevere and lift each other up. Expect high drama and happy endings.

Discover a variety of genres, serial and standalone. Women loving women always take the lead.

Online Issue 15

 

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Darrin Doyle’s short story collection, Scoundrels Among Us, hit shelves this week and Darrin is here to talk about the common thread that ties these stories together. “A lot of fiction contains somebody doing something bad or wrong, but often they’re making bad decisions for themselves (or to themselves). My collection features many folks (mostly men) behaving in creepy, questionable, violent, or otherwise unseemly ways.”

I found the collection to be a celebration of the absurd and highly entertaining. Darrin also shares what’s on his TBR pile – including works such as Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves, Christine Schutt’s All Souls, Christine Sneed’s The Virginity of Famous Men and Katie Chase’s Man & Wife.

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Hunter Shea admits his love for Real Housewives and talks about the scariest night of his life and inspiration for Creature. Hunter also talks about his cats, Iris and Salem, in this author assistant feature.

Judy Penz Sheluk talks about her writing companion, a pup named for a character from NCIS: Gibbs

James Oswald talks about writing from the female perspective, insights from social media and claims to be “rubbish” at performing one specific author task.

Reviews:

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse reviewed by Sandra Ruttan

Scoundrels Among Us by Darrin Doyle reviewed by Sandra Ruttan

Solemn Graves: A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery by James R. Benn reviewed by Theodore Feit

The Sinners by Ace Atkins reviewed by Theodore Feit

A Book To Look Up

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What is ‘voice’ anyway?

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Thoughts on Horror

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I suspect there could be as many conversations about what horror is as there are about what noir is. Laura Lauro’s tweets pointed me to the Aeon.co article by M.M. Owen, which is well worth a look.

“Horror is what anthropologists call biocultural. It is about fears we carry because we are primates with a certain evolved biology: the corruption of the flesh, the loss of our offspring. It is also about fears unique to our sociocultural moment: the potential danger of genetically modifying plants. The first type of fear is universal; the second is more flexible and contextual. Their cold currents meet where all great art does its work, down among the bottomless caves on the seabed of consciousness. Lurking here, a vision of myself paralysed in the dirt, invisible to those I love.”

 

Online Issue 14

TSP OI14 coverAuthor Lee Murray talks about her novelInto the Sounds, and how traveling has shaped her life and writing, the actor she’d pick to play her protagonist for the series and her faithful author assistant, Bella.

Stuart R. West drops by to talk about his faithful companion, Zak, and his novels Secret Society (which may be one of the most original takes on a serial killer story) and how a real-life ghost town inspired Ghosts of Gannaway.

Jon O’Bergh is back to share the music his characters in The Shatter Point would listen to.

S.D. Hintz is also giving us the goods on the nosey neighbors who inspired The Witching Well and the reason he may just live in the creepiest house, ever.

ICYMI, Brian talked to Steph Post and Nik Norpon about their tattoos. And there’s a new story up at Zombie Cat: Waiting on the Stress Boxes by David Hagerty.

Goldilocks and the Dark Barometer

Every now and again, someone writes about the darkness that permeates Young Adult fiction. This leads to speculation about whether it is too dark, and summaries on the topic. I could do likewise, but I felt  already did that so well, I don’t need to.

What I did decide was that I would focus on reading some popular YA authors and titles and see what I thought. So, reads over the past few months classified as YA have included Nightwolf, Salt, The Fragile Ordinary, The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Out of all of these offerings, Nightwolf is probably the darkest. Salt has monsters and The Forest of Hands and Teeth has zombies, but Nightwolf focuses on real horrors some kids today live with, and although it isn’t pure noir, there is a sense of hopelessness and futility that permeate the story. It isn’t what I’d call cheery. The other titles have varying degrees of hope – for resolution of problems, for overcoming difficult situations, for the future. I didn’t find any of this unrelentingly dark.

Now, your mileage may vary. But here’s the thing. Young people are dealing with a lot of crap. We did, too, in our day. They’re trying to figure out who they are, what they want out of life and what others expect of them. They have to make decisions that will shape their entire future. And they’re looking at a war of words between politicians that might lead to war with North Korea and all kinds of other crap going on that could change their future. They want to assume control of their lives but they aren’t adults, so they’re caught between taking responsibility for their actions and having limited authority for their choices.

And everything they do is presented on social media for all the world to see.

Frankly, the stuff I’ve heard about via the kids over recent years has been numbing. They are far more aware of a lot of crap than I ever was. And I specifically started watching The Walking Dead because their biomom was watching it with them when they were eleven. Brian and I always felt we should have some sense of what they were watching and being exposed to so that we could have informed conversations about it, so a show I’d resisted watching became part of our regular viewing. (And they had some good seasons, so for a while it wasn’t a chore at all.) Frankly, if they can watch that when they aren’t even teens, it’s got to be pretty damn hard to top that level of darkness in fiction.

People read for all kinds of reasons, and one of those reasons is to escape. Another is to learn about things they otherwise wouldn’t get answers about. And another is to help them process things they’re dealing with.

Hells bells, I’m just glad to see young people reading. You want to read dark? Read on, I say.

Reviews:

Review: Salt by Hannah Moskowitz

 

Review: The Fragile Ordinary by Samantha Young

 

Review: Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

 

Review: The Middleman by Olen Steinhauer

 

Review: Walking Shadows by Faye Kellerman

 

Review: Robert B. Parker’s Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman

 

Bye Bye Kindle Boards

From their new terms of service:

“You agree to grant to KBOARDS.COM a non exclusive, royalty free, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to reproduce, distribute, transmit, sublicense, create derivative works of, publicly display, publish and perform any materials and other information you submit to any public areas, chat rooms, bulletin boards, newsgroups or forums of KBOARDS.COM or which you provide by email or any other means to KBOARDS.COM and in any media now known or hereafter developed. Further, you grant to KBOARDS.COM the right to use your name and or user name in connection with the submitted materials and other information as well as in connection with all advertising, marketing and promotional material related thereto, together with use on any other VerticalScope Inc. web sites. You agree that you shall have no recourse against VerticalScope Inc. for any alleged or actual infringement or misappropriation of any proprietary right in your communications to KBOARDS.COM.”

You have to email and ask for all your information to be removed. Always nice for some assholes to come along and change the terms of service after the fact so that people’s information is already being sold. Jerks. Time to sign off.

Hulu Programming Campaign for Letterkenny

Now, Brian’s new favorite show is a Canadian show called Letterkenny. The first two seasons are on Hulu, and he wants them to get all the seasons added. So here’s hoping some of you will have a full appreciation for the quirky humor and jump on the bandwagon. Season 1 has a running joke starting episode 2 that has payoff in the final episode of the season…. just brilliant. These clips have nothing to do with the ostrich fucker, or my favorite joke about a certain book, or even the super-soft birthday party, but they do help set the tone of the show.

 

Now, this one… maybe not young kid friendly. But a great illustration of ‘show not tell’ writing. I know exactly what Wayne and Daryl think about Squirrely Dan’s revelation about his sexual experience without so much as a word from either of them.

 

Review: Salt by Hannah Moskowitz

The teenage years can be tough enough. Kids must find their way, determine the right path for their future, and many will fail to fulfill their parents’ expectations in the process. When you add in the fact that Indi’s parents are missing and presumed dead and he is one of four siblings, including one sibling who is much younger, things get complicated. Indi and his older sister, Beleza, assume responsibility for twelve-year-old master thief Oscar and six-year-old Zulu.

51uwkhh0yzlWhy hasn’t social services or someone else stepped in to get all of these kids proper care, you might wonder? Well, that’s kind of hard when they have spent most of their life living on vessels hunting ocean monsters with their parents.

And we’re not just talking about big marine mammals that might be daunting. We’re talking about morde d’eaus and El Diamante and a whole host of other monsters responsible for making whole ships disappear, as well as the occasional cat.

Beleza is on a mission that Indi thinks is crazy. She wants to hunt down the monster that presumably killed their parents.

In his heart, however, Indi isn’t that convinced about their mission or their capabilities. There’s a part of him that wants a different life for them all, so he obsesses about reading his parents’ journal to try to find clues to the treasure they told their children they had secured for them.

Indi meets an attractive young woman named Hura and his relationship with her may ultimately help hasten their victory… or the death and destruction of his whole family.

There’s a whole lot to applaud in this fast-paced YA adventure/coming-of-age story. Some may wish for more descriptive details about the monsters and hunts; I appreciated the minimalist approach that gave us just enough to entice our imagination and didn’t get bogged down with excessive details while moving through a hunt or attack. Moskowitz also avoids excessive introspection, which has its perks, too. Mentally and emotionally, we’re right where the protagonist is, and that makes his decisions more credible. Nothing is held back; anything Indi must discover feels like a full revelation to the reader as well.

Under the surface of a revenge/monster story, this is a tale about figuring out who you are, family obligations, principles and forgiveness. Every member of Indi’s family must decide what lines they’re willing to cross and what’s important to them.

I loved this story. Now, it may (or may not) matter to you to know a few things about me to understand how significant that statement is. I’ve flown in an ultralight.I’ve traveled by bus, plane and train. Extensively. 26 countries on 4 continents. And I’ve been out on the open ocean. I’ve sailed in the Irish Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. I’ve traveled over the Atlantic and crossed the English Channel.

The only kind of travel I have a problem with is by water. Not boating on lakes… boating on the ocean. I get seasick. Majorly. I’ve never overcome it.

So this book starts off with these kids on a boat and… you see, a lot of times when I get review copies I just take them and forget what they’re about. I put them on a list in order of release and work my way through. If a book isn’t working I pass and move on and then give it a second try and either read it or abandon it. So, between getting Salt and reading it, I only recalled it was YA.

I started the book and felt nauseous just reading.

And then I turned the page and there were monsters! And we were right into the middle of an attack and I was sold.

Of course, the other thing you may (or may not) need to know about me is that I almost drowned. I’m not talking about I had a little scare in a pool when I couldn’t touch bottom for a second or anything like that. I fell down a waterfall. A group of people formed a lifeline on shore and pulled me out after I was sucked down in a whirlpool.

So there’s a scene in the book that made me squirm, but it’s a testament to Moskowitz’s skill set, that she knows how to set a scene in such a way that the reader feels they are right there. That’s a testament to her skills. I loved this book. Sit down, strap yourself in and brave the high seas with Indi and his family to find out whether or not they can locate the treasure, the truth about their parents and fulfill the revenge mission Beleza has started them on.