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Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

Recent Reads – Book Reviews

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 14, 2017

Readers are always asking, who are my favorite authors? So I’ll share with you some of my recent reads. My tastes vary from romance to mystery to scifi/fantasy. At any time, I’ll be reading more than one book. I have not included the historical romances I’ve read, because these are mostly older books I have accumulated from conferences over time. They’re my comfort books that I reach for when I need a pleasant escape. You can see all of my reviews over at Goodreads. So here are the other recent titles from my shelves that I would rate at 4 or 5 stars.

Reader

The Detecting Duchess by Kate Parker (Historical Mystery)

Soon-to-be Duchess and Victorian bookshop owner Georgia Fenchurch gets embroiled in another murder mystery just days before her wedding to the Duke of Blackford. The case involves stolen Egyptian gold, governmental diplomats, and a missing investigator. As the bodies pile up, Georgia wonders if she’ll be able to make her nuptials. Can she find the killer before the wedding bells ring, or will it be her death knell instead? Another charming addition to a delightful series. http://amzn.to/2t1oKeV

The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander (Historical Novel)

This haunting story about a girl forced into servitude at an Irish laundry run by nuns is gripping in its tale of betrayal, despair, hope, and faith. Vivid historical details bring the story to life as readers suffer along with the wrongly accused young woman, Teagan Tiernan. As she fights for survival, she befriends two other girls, which makes their monotonous routine somewhat bearable. Insisting on her innocence, she never gives up the quest for freedom despite harsh living conditions, forced labor, and humiliating punishments. This dark blot on the church’s history exposes a sorry past of cruelty in the name of love and redemption. http://amzn.to/2srG7si

Honor’s Flight by Lindsay Buroker (Science Fiction)

Book two in the Fallen Empire series has Captain Alisa Marchenko and crew arriving on her home world. All Alisa wants is to retrieve her daughter, but obstacles lay in her path. Her crew members are wanted men, and everywhere they go on this imperial planet brings danger their way. Alisa finally reaches her daughter’s location, but things don’t go the way she’d planned. Her late husband kept a deep secret from her that affects her entire family. Now her quest must continue as she faces a greater foe. This series has me hooked. It’s reminiscent of Firefly and has a sympathetic heroine with a relatable goal. http://amzn.to/2srKO5E

Star Nomad by Lindsay Buroker (Science Fiction)

This first book in the Fallen Empire series finds former Alliance pilot Captain Alisa Marchenko looking for a way off the planet where she’s been recovering from injuries sustained in battle. The war is over, and the Alliance won. She needs to retrieve her daughter and move on with her life. But she can’t afford supplies even if she can reclaim the ship that brought her there. Her only solution is to take on paying passengers. Thus she takes off with a misfit group of comrades, most of whom guard secrets that could prove dangerous. Alisa and friends get into one scrape after another while each one chases their own elusive goal. Will she survive long enough to find her daughter? And why does she feel attracted to the imperial Cyborg soldier when she should fear him? Can she betray him if the time comes? Readers won’t want to stop with this one volume. You’ll want to follow Alisa and her motley crew on their next rousing space opera adventure. http://amzn.to/2rgCAZx

A Front Page Affair by Radha Vatsal (Historical Mystery)

Enterprising journalist Kitty Weeks is covering a social affair for the ladies’ page in early 1900s New York when a man is shot dead in the stables. Her assignment turns into a series of interviews of various guests present that day. Using her unique skills, she’s able to gather information on the suspects. But things become personal when a couple of Secret Servant agents implicate her father in a scheme that might have a broader reach. Wartime is on the horizon. How much is Kitty willing to risk to learn the truth? Kitty Weeks is a delightful heroine and so are the supporting characters that populate this historical mystery. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next installment. http://amzn.to/2rgTVl3

The Keeper by David Baldacci (YA Fantasy)

Vega Jane and her companions traverse the dreaded Quag in this second book of Baldacci’s famed fantasy series. She’ll need all her magical powers to survive the different levels. Each of the five circles comes with its own dangers. Challenged at every corner, Vega must rely on her own wits and instincts plus the allies she meets along the way. Will she and her best friend Delph defeat the creatures that live in the wilderness? Or will they be lost in the Quag forever? This action-packed tale will have readers rapidly turning pages and eager for the sequel. If you like quest stories and monsters, this one is for you. http://amzn.to/2t1gATQ

Really, Truly Dead by Maggie Toussaint (Mystery Novella)

Lindsey, a journalist, returns to her hometown only to find her father arrested for the murder of the town judge. The man didn’t lack for enemies. He was about to put the local shrimpers out of business by not renewing their dock lease. He owned a sleazy motel and had a mistress or two on the side. But it doesn’t look good for Lindsey’s father, who was having an affair with the judge’s wife. Meanwhile, the sheriff has his eyes on Lindsey, and those heated glances he gives her have nothing to do with the case and everything to do with romance. Can she solve the case and clear her father’s name so she can follow her heart? http://amzn.to/2t1kA6K

New Canaan by M.D. Cooper (Science Fiction)

General Tanis Richards wishes she could enjoy a peaceful life at New Canaan, her new home. But planetary defense is her responsibility, and she has secret shipbuilding facilities to expand her fleet. War looms on the horizon between three factions, and they’ll soon all head her way to gain the colony’s technology. This book is part of the Aeon 14 series and is another action-filled adventure with political intrigue, espionage, and the inevitable space battle. I’ve been hooked since book one on this series. http://amzn.to/2tlxsUJ

Duchess of Terra by Glynn Stewart (Science Fiction)

Book Two in the Duchy of Terra series finds newly titled Duchess Annette Bond as the leader of Earth, a.k.a. Terra, and a subject of the A!Tol empire. As she gathers her new government, they wrestle with how to meet the Imperium’s demands for military warships without giving away Earth’s resources. Meanwhile, Kanzi slavers build forces on the border. It’s a race against time as Annette battles to protect her planet while ceding to the wishes of her new superiors. It doesn’t help that she also faces holdouts of the old Earth resistance, and they threaten the safety of her people. With threats from within and without, Annette has her hands full. But as we’ve seen in book one, she is very capable of juggling multiple balls at the same time. Somehow Earth will survive, but they may need to find new allies along the way. This fast-paced story alternates between political manipulations and space battles. You’ll be rooting for Annette to succeed. I’m ready for the sequel. http://amzn.to/2t1j5Wp

The Queen’s Accomplice by Susan Elia MacNeal (Historical Mystery)

This installment in the Maggie Hope series seems darker than most with a serial killer on the loose in London during WWII. I’ve enjoyed these stories with espionage, intrigue, and adventure but less so this one. If I want to read about women being brutalized, I’ll pick up the newspaper. I prefer lighter fare in my reading. More interesting to me was the puzzle of what had happened to Maggie’s half-sister and to another female operative in Paris. Let’s hope the author leaves the serial killers behind in the next book and gives us a good spy thriller in France. While not as much for my taste, this story is well-written with a likeable heroine. http://amzn.to/2t1k6gS

Caught Dead Handed by Carol J. Perry (Mystery)

This first book in “A Witch City” mystery series is a delightful cozy set in Salem, Massachusetts. Reporter Lee Barrett returns to her home town to move in with her Aunt Ibby and to hopefully get a job at WICH-TV. When she’s passed on the field reporting job she wanted and is offered a role as call-in psychic instead, she jumps at the chance to get her foot in the door. Is it a coincidence that she’s just discovered the body of her predecessor drowned in the sea? And when Lee starts seeing images in a crystal ball, how does she know if Ariel’s spirit is channeling through her, or if she’s developing powers of her own? Something isn’t right at the TV station, and the more Lee digs into things, the deeper she gets in trouble. A charming debut.  http://amzn.to/2rv9VPM

The Finisher by David Baldacci (YA Fantasy)

In the town of Wormwood, Vega Jane acts as a Finisher at the Stacks without questioning her destiny until she sees the unthinkable. Quentin Herms runs away into the Quag, the bordering realm that surrounds Wormwood and where no one is ever supposed to go. The forest harbors nothing except monsters and death. Or so she’s been told. But when the town leaders lie about Quentin’s disappearance, she grows suspicious at their obvious cover-up. Seeking answers, she sneaks into the Stacks at night and discovers secrets beyond her imagination. She also acquires instruments of power and begins to question the very origin of her world. With the support of the stalwart Delph, she plots her own escape. But first she must survive a series of combat and face the wrath of the powerful Morrigone who wants her dead. Excellent world building in this gripping novel will have readers frantically turning pages to see if Vega Jane achieves her goal. The story reminded me of City of Ember that has its young protagonists seeking escape from a similarly mysterious town with nothing but blackness beyond. Or is there more? But while the concepts are similar, the worlds are each uniquely distinctive. http://amzn.to/2tlsOGj

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Book Reviews

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 11, 2016

As an author, I’m often asked what I like to read. Basically, my taste runs to genre fiction. I like to escape to other worlds far away from the reality of daily news. Here are some of my recent reads from Fall 2015. You can also follow my reviews on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/91508.Nancy_J_Cohen

Bookshelf

A Matter of Honor by Jamie McFarlane (Science Fiction)
Captain Liam Hoffen and crew are determined to rescue the survivors from Cape of Good Hope, a ship abandoned by the powerful Belirand Corporation. But even as they set this goal, they’re marked for death. Because now they know the secret that Belirand will kill to keep. Aiding their quest is the mysterious inventor, Phillipe Anino. While avoiding Belirand’s assassins, Liam and friends discover the issue is way bigger than they’d thought. It could blow a hole in everyone’s concept of the known universe. And Belirand is willing to guard this knowledge at the expense of Liam, his crew, and their families. Is he willing to risk all to save the forty-five crew members of Cape of Good Hope?

A Matter of Honor is another action-packed installment in the Privateer Tales. What makes you care are the characters who are noble at heart and take the moral high road. They are heroes you can cheer for until the final page is turned, and then you have to wait impatiently for the sequel.

Plantation Shudders by Ellen Byron (Mystery)
Cajun cuisine mixes with murder and history in this delightful debut novel from Ellen Byron. Maggie Crozat, an artist from Manhattan, goes home for a stay at her family’s B&B. The mansion’s rooms are filled, but no sooner can you say “Laissez les bons temps roulez,” than the shenanigans begin. First one guest meets her demise. When her death appears suspicious and the finger points to Maggie’s relations, Maggie vows to uncover the truth. Impeding her progress is the sheriff, whose feud with the Crozat family is legendary. Fortunately, his handsome relative shows up on the force and quickly becomes Maggie’s ally. Will she unmask the murderer before more guests meet their untimely end? Can she save their plantation from financial ruin? Maggie needs to fire up her southern charm and sniff out a killer to save the estate. With the richly Southern setting, quirky characters, and evocative descriptions, you’ll be wanting more in this charming series.

Kris Longknife: Unrelenting (Science Fiction)
Admiral Princess Kris Longknife is in charge of Alwa’s defense, a planet under imminent threat of attack from a homicidal race. Her resources are limited. But it’s hard for her to remain focused when an act of sabotage within her own ranks neutralizes a number of military women’s birth control devices. Kris is one of the affected officers who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. With a baby on the way, she faces her biggest battle yet. The survival of the planet depends on her. Will her forces be strong enough to defend this one world and prevent the aliens from eradicating humanity elsewhere in the galaxy? Natives, colonialists, scientists, and soldiers join forces in the ultimate confrontation.

Kris Longknife is a sympathetic, strong female protagonist who keeps being forced into military space battles when she’d rather seek peace. But with her brilliant strategic mind, she’s best suited to lead her people toward victory. I’m eager for the next installment.

A Cup of Jo by Sandra Balzo (Mystery)
The grand opening of Maggy Thorsen’s coffee shop by a train station is proceeding according to plan, until the event organizer is found dead inside an inflatable coffee cup. Suspects abound, from the woman’s husband to various acquaintances, most of whom have motives. When her boyfriend’s integrity is called into question, Maggy decides to do some investigating of her own. A solid mystery, a cast of quirky characters, and a savory setting make this a pleasant whodunit to add to your shelves.

Killer Transaction by Catherine Bruns (Mystery)
Real estate agent Cindy York has the job from hell. She’s consistently cheated by rival Realtor, Tiffany Roberts. Tiffany steals her listings and woos her clients while their boss looks the other way. Being cheated one time too many, Cindy leaves a nasty message on Tiffany’s voice mail. This comes back to haunt her when she discovers the woman’s dead body. The police focus on Cindy as the main suspect. With her job in jeopardy and being a hairsbreadth away from serving jail time, can Cindy find the culprit and clear her name?

Smuggler’s Dilemma by Jamie McFarlane (Science Fiction)
In Book 5 of the Privateer Tales, Captain Liam Hoffen and company are hired to locate a battleship operated by the deadly pirates known as Red Houzi. The pirate fleet has just decimated a naval force, and the Navy must regain control so people don’t panic. Liam’s unorthodox tactics are the only thing that might help them gain the upper hand. But when Liam spies the enemy ship, he decides that rather than call in the Navy as he’d been ordered, he’ll attack the vessel and take it over instead. Meanwhile, he struggles with his girlfriend’s recovery from disabling injuries. Can she manage well enough to come along as his pilot? This story contains the usual battle scenes, along with personal interactions that develop the characters.

Mercy’s Prince by Katy Huth Jones (Fantasy)
Valerian is second in line to the throne until his brother is killed in battle. Now the Crown Prince, Valerian must live up to his father’s expectations and become a warrior. While he’s struggling with his fate, Mercy lives in a nearby village and has to discover her destiny. Aware only recently of her healing power, she has no idea how extensive her gifts are until forced to use them. When Valerian and Mercy meet, they slowly realize they belong together. United, they can defeat the enemy. But how long will the peace last before the fearful soldiers come back stronger? Dragons, mind melds, magic, and romance blend together in this coming-of-age tale. Mercy’s Prince is a pleasant escapist read.

The Savants by Patrick Kendrick (YA SciFi Thriller)
The Eastern seaboard of the U.S. is imperiled when a nuclear bomb explodes underwater off the coast, triggering a fault line to crack apart. A gigantic tsunami will flood a number of states unless the President can find a solution. He discovers unlikely help at a research institute for savants, individuals who’ve suffered brain damage but are gifted in unique ways. Working together for the first time, these young people believe they can help. But their leader, who has brought them there to study the group’s dynamics, hides a secret of his own. Much worse is the secret guarded by the Vice President, who sows the seeds of distrust in our government. Can disaster be averted and the traitors in our midst exposed in time to save the world? Scientific theories collide with political intrigue in this fast-paced thriller. Kudos to Mr. Kendrick for educating us about savants and their special talents.

Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen (Historical Mystery)
This installment in the Royal Spyness series is the best yet. A trip to America for Lady Georgiana, distant cousin to the royal family, provides laughs with its fish-out-of-water theme. Add to this a wacky cast of film stars, an eccentric producer, and a jewel thief, and the fun accelerates. Georgiana’s suitor, the mysterious Mr. Darcy, appears when the crew congregates at a glitzy Hollywood mansion. He’s after the jewel thief, but then someone turns up dead. As the puzzle deepens, Georgiana wonders which one of her new friends is the culprit.

G-2 (The Guardian of Earth Series) by Nigel Carson (Science Fiction)
When Zeke discovers a hostile alien fleet is headed to Earth, he is determined to stop them. His role as Guardian of Earth and descendant of a faraway race is a secret. He trusts no one for help, including his robot valet, Forman. It’s a good thing, since Forman’s creator has tampered with his programming. She’s put a locator inside him, and this becomes useful as Zeke and Forman are compromised by the Maleem invaders. Zeke has a narrow escape aided by his girlfriend, Jessie. Could they use the way she freed him as a means to repel the alien force? Why is it that humans are disappearing around the globe? As more world leaders succumb to the Maleem mind link via a mysterious necklace, Zeke consults his Taman relatives for answers. How can he defeat an ingenious enemy who is seemingly unstoppable? They tell Zeke that he needs to have faith in his own powers and the help of others who believe in him. Can he use his newfound heritage to protect the planet? Filled with action, adventure, and suspense, this story will take you on a ride that’s out of this world. The secondary characters are memorable and unique. An exciting, edge-of-your-seat read!

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Book Reviews: What I Am Reading

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 25, 2015

When I give talks, people always ask what I like to read. So I am going to share with you some of the books I’ve read this year. You can also follow my reviews on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/91508.Nancy_J_Cohen

Death with All the Trimmings by Lucy Burdette (Mystery)
Hayley looks forward to writing about new Key West chef Edel Waugh in her food critic column, but things go up in smoke when a fire shuts down the restaurant. Then investigators discover a dead body inside an adjacent burnt-out shed. It’s no other than Edel’s ex-husband. Was his death an accident, or did Edel commit arson to cover up a crime? Or perhaps someone else has a grudge against the talented chef? Hayley determines to help the woman, who’s anxious to open for the holidays. But will Hayley even have a column to write when a rival threatens her job? Chaos ensues amid holiday preparations in this fun mystery. The mouth-watering food descriptions will compel you to make a dinner reservation at your favorite restaurant.

The Heir by Kiera Cass (YA Fantasy)
This fourth installment in The Selection series by Kiera Cass is just as much frothy fun as the previous three books. If you like to daydream about living in a palace and being on first name terms with royalty, you might enjoy these titles. In this story, Princess Eadlyn agrees to her parents’ requests to hold a Selection in order to distract the populace from their woes. Having no interest in getting married, she dutifully obeys while plotting to get rid of her suitors along the way. She doesn’t expect to actually care about any of the young men who show up at the palace hoping to win her hand, so it comes as a surprise when a few of them make an impression. Can she let down her emotional walls enough to give herself a chance at love? With this being part of another trilogy, you know the princess won’t make her decision until the end, and the author does a good job of keeping you guessing which guy will win her heart. If you’re looking for complex political intrigue, look elsewhere. The Heir is light, fun, and full of dreams for a pleasing summer read.

Murder at Beechwood by Alyssa Maxwell (Historical Mystery)
Journalist Emma Cross, a lesser member of the Vanderbilt family, opens her mansion door in historic Newport one day to find a baby on her doorstep. Down the road is a murdered coachman who must have left the infant there. Who are they, and why did they come to her house? She launches her investigation into an elite society soon clouded by another death. Textile magnate Virgil Monroe disappears overboard from his sailboat. Was it an accident or murder? Is there a link between the missing man and the abandoned child? Who among this bejeweled crowd might know about the baby? As Emma investigates, she learns shocking secrets that might make her the next victim unless she discovers the culprit first. Emma continues to show her strength and gumption in an era when independent women weren’t the norm. You’ll be eager to join her next adventure involving history, mystery, and high society in the Gilded Newport era.

The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace (YA Fantasy)
This story engaged me from the start and swept me along with its frantic, engrossing pace. Multiple viewpoint switches were done well, with each chapter labeled by the character who ruled it. I quickly felt sympathy for Johanna, member of a performing troupe who watched her father die as he fell from a tightrope in the forest. Was it an accident as people said? And why were girls who looked like her being murdered in different villages? She performs at the estate of Duke DeSilva and meets his son, Lord Rafael. There’s an instant love-hate relationship between them that makes you realize they’re destined to be together. But Johanna has a broader destiny, because she hides an identity unknown even to herself. And once Rafi finds out who she really is, he swears to protect her at all cost. But can he protect her from dangerous mages headed their way or conspirators bent on destroying them? Romance, mystery, and fantasy are wound into one package that will have you bolting for the next volume.

Bubba Done It by Maggie Toussaint (Paranormal Mystery)
When a dying banker says that someone nicknamed Bubba stabbed him, he unleashes the sheriff’s investigation into a number of townsfolk all of whom share the same moniker. What makes the lawman’s task more difficult is that each person has a viable motive. Wayne turns for help to the local Dreamwalker. But when Baxley tries to contact the dead guy in the great beyond, she runs into a dark entity that threatens to pull her into the void forever. Complicating matters are the victim’s niece who is missing and her boat that was found abandoned in the marsh. What has happened to the young girl? As Baxley gets closer to the truth, she receives threatening messages and acts of vandalism that are meant to discourage her. But she persists on pursuing justice regardless of her own peril. It’s a pleasure to see Baxley’s paranormal powers expanding. This unique element adds to the story’s mystique. With its cast of quirky characters, Southern setting, and psychic sleuth, Bubba Done It will keep you guessing until the end.

Murder and Marinara by Rosie Genova (Mystery)
Victoria returns to her hometown on the Jersey Shore to do research for her next mystery novel. Fiction turns into reality when TV producer Gio Parisi dines at her family’s restaurant and keels over dead. Could the culprit be their food supplier who has a grudge against Parisi? Or Tim the chef, who had the opportunity? Or maybe Parisi’s wife or girlfriend? Suspects abound in this lighthearted romp that will have you remembering your days at the seashore with fond memories.

The Saffron Crocus by Alison McMahan (YA Historical Mystery)
Isabella, 15, longs to be a singer in 1643 Venice, but as a lady, she’s confined to singing in salons. Her teacher, Margherita, introduces her to the opera, and Isabella sees a new future ahead of her. But when Margherita is brutally murdered and her son is accused of the deed, Isabella shifts her goals to discovering the killer. She’s met Rafaele, who respects her ambitions, and she wishes to help clear his name. But can she resist her aunt’s attempts to match her to another man, who won’t allow her to sing in public? As she discovers secrets her teacher kept hidden, Isabella races to gain evidence before Rafaele is executed for his alleged crimes. If he dies, so will her hope, because she’s fallen in love with him. This glimpse into a fascinating era moves at a quick pace that will have readers singing for justice and wanting more from this talented author.

The Counterfeit Lady by Kate Parker (Historical Mystery)
Georgia Fenchurch, a London bookshop owner during the Victorian era, is a member of the secret Archivist Society that investigates crimes. So when her house guest Lady Phyllida’s cousin is murdered, Georgia gets involved. The cousin was married to a man who’d designed warship blueprints for the government, and those documents are now missing. There’s only a handful of people who would have known he’d taken them home that evening, and they are members of the upper crust. Thus Georgia assumes the identity of Lady Georgina and teams up with the Duke of Blackford to infiltrate high society. They must root out a spy and find the real killer to clear the husband’s name of murder.

This second book in the Victorian Bookshop mystery series is as engaging as the first. Georgia is a capable heroine, strong-willed and independent. She grows to care for the duke while knowing their relationship can never progress beyond friendship. I’m eager for the next installment as the search for her parents’ killer continues and she gets involved in another adventure.

G-1 (The Guardian of Earth Series book one) by Rigel Carson (Science Fiction)
The world is on the brink of ecological disaster, but scientist Dr. Zeke Landry has trouble convincing anyone that a conspiracy might be the cause. As he digs deeper, he uncovers truths about himself that leave him even more mystified. When he becomes a target for deadly forces bent on his destruction, is it because of his research into the global water shortage or because of his own mysterious background? In a race against time, he must discover his legacy and activate his powers to save the world. G-1 is a page-turning ecological thriller that could become chillingly real.

The Goddess’s Choice by Jamie Marchant (Fantasy)
Robbie can’t take any more beatings by his father, and so he looks for escape one day at the country fair. Here he meets the lovely lady he calls Milady. They share a dance and a conversation before her guards hustle her off. Figuring he’d never see her again, Robbie returns to his farm and the animals who comfort him. Somehow he can understand what they say and can heal their injuries with his mind. Meanwhile, the lady he met returns to her home at the palace. She’s actually Crown Princess Samantha. Her father, the king, is ill and has been pressuring her to choose a consort. She rejects the fawning suitors who want nothing more from her than her royal status. As members of her court conspire to seize power, Robbie learns he has powers of his own that go beyond healing. Can he gain his strength in time to save Samantha from the noblemen plotting to kill her? This well-imagined story will grab your attention from the start and take you on an adventure filled with magic until the satisfying conclusion.

Undercity by Catherine Asaro (Science Fiction)
Beginning a new scifi detective series set in the Skolian Empire universe, Asaro introduces Major Bhaajan, a former military officer turned P.I. who returns to her home planet under assignment to rescue a missing prince. What she discovers goes beyond a kidnapping and reveals a conspiracy that shakes her world. Exquisite world building, strong characters and fast-paced action will have readers eagerly awaiting the sequel.

What is on your reading list for this summer?

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Plotting Murder Among Friends

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 25, 2014

Join our imaginary conversation in a restaurant between two mystery writer friends:

Coffee Cup

Writer A: “I need to kill somebody while they’re getting a facial.”

Writer B: “How are you gonna do it?”

Writer A: “I’d like to use poison.”

Writer B: “You can’t involve the beautician. That would be too obvious.”

Writer A: “I know. What if my victim has one of those mud masks applied, and she has to lie there with a towel on her face for ten minutes or so? The beautician might leave for a few moments, at which time somebody can come in and smother the woman?”

Writer B: “Smothering works, but it doesn’t use poison. What if the killer taints the mud instead?”

Writer A: “Then the beautician would have to wear gloves when applying it so she wouldn’t be affected.”

Writer B: “How long do you want the victim to take to die? You’ll need the poison to be fast acting if she’s dead when the aesthetician returns.”

Writer A: “Yes, it should be quick. I have a book on poisons at home. And I don’t want it to be immediately evident to the cops that the woman died from unnatural causes.”

Strange Male Voice: “Are you talking about us, ma’am?”

Writer A and B glance up. Two policemen are standing by their table.

Cop A: “You’ll need to come to the station, miss. The customer in the next booth says you’re planning a murder.”

Writer A glances at their nosy neighbor. “We’re mystery writers. I’m talking about my next book, Fatality by Facial. Here, have a bookmark.”

Cop B: “No kidding? You know, I’ve always wanted to write a mystery. How do you get published? Do I need an agent?”

Writer A and B abruptly get up, pay their tab, and leave after exchanging bemused glances.

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So if you were the plotting partner, how would you suggest doing the deed?

Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Writing Effective Dialogue

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 1, 2012

You’ve finished writing your book and are ready to start self-edits. What should you be examining in each conversation? Here are 14 tips to help you write more effective dialogue.

conversation

All conversations should have a purpose.
Dialogue is a great way to start a story and provide an opening hook. You’ll want to keep the pace moving forward. Besides backstory and flashbacks, there’s nothing that kills pacing more than meandering dialogue. Conversations should reveal information, advance the plot, deepen characterization, create conflict, offer comic relief, or present new insights. Long passages of dialogue where nothing happens will make your reader wonder when the story will move ahead.

Vary your techniques.
Information exchanges don’t have to be straightforward. Revelations can be tricked, teased, or threatened out of a character. Have your heroine blurt out something in the heat of the moment. Or have two characters discuss a situation and reach a new conclusion together. What you want to avoid is an info dump. Even at the end of a thriller or mystery where you have to reveal the How-Done-It about the crime, don’t just have the killer stand there pointing a gun at your hero while rattling off his confession. Save some of this info for the final wrap scene, where your hero reflects on events with another character and comes to an insight that brings growth and change.

Cut the fillers that people use in real conversations.
“Excuse me, um, did you—I mean, did I—tell you, like, what this topic, you know, will be about?” In this instance, we don’t want to write realistic dialogue. Our fictional sentences must be more concise and to the point. Some mannerisms are allowed for character development, like the person who says “you know” all the time, but leave out the rest of the fluff.

Watch those cuss words.
You may have a gutter mouth, or think your character should talk that way, but be wary of alienating your readers. Who’s your target audience? Do you want a wider readership? If so, sprinkle in the use of bad language judiciously or substitute a word like “frak” in Battlestar Galactica.

Don’t be too clinical.
When writing sex scenes, certain language is permissible if your genre is erotica but not if you want to appeal to a more general audience. Again, consider your readership. You may want to look at the emotional ramifications of a love scene rather than focusing on the sex act itself.
Avoiding certain terminology also applies to your character’s point of view. Occasionally, I will slip in some medical terms into my story. This comes from my own background as a nurse, not my hairdresser sleuth’s. My critique group always catches me on this error. So be careful of using jargon your character might not know but that you do.

Use dialect sparingly.
It can be enough to say your character has a heavy southern accent rather than changing every word, as in “Ah have to git me a new dress for the party Ah am hankerin’ to attend.” This is okay in small doses but can get annoying throughout an entire book. Ditto for foreign languages. Sprinkle in a few select phrases to give the reader the flavor of the character’s speech without making us stumble over sentences that are hard to pronounce, let alone comprehend.

Favorite phrases can enhance character.
What does your protagonist say when surprised? When he’s annoyed? Make up some favorite phrases for him to use as a speech tag, keeping his background in mind. For example, a hairstylist might say, “Holy highlights!”, or a space pilot: “By the stars!”

Avoid unnecessary speech tags and adverbs.
Leave off the “she cackled merrily,” “he ranted angrily,” or “she snickered devilishly.” You don’t need descriptive adverbs. Let the dialogue speak for itself. Use “he said” or “she said.” Better yet, show through action who is speaking.

Consider the technique of oblique dialogue.
This is where one speaker asks a question. The respondent either counters with another question or answers with an unrelated comment. Nonverbal cues can supply the subtext or clues as to what’s really going on in this conversation.

Don’t repeat info the characters already know.
This kind of info exchange, where two people talk about something they both already know, serves merely to fill the reader in on background info. Find another less obvious way to slide this knowledge into the conversation. Dialogue is a great way to add backstory but only if done in an unobtrusive manner and if it’s related to the current situation.

Separate single lines of dialogue from expository passages.
If you have a single line in quotes and the rest of the paragraph is introspection or action from the same character, put the line of dialogue in its own paragraph.

Reveal character through conversation.
Does your character always end a sentence in a question? Talk in a confrontational manner? Show his wishy-washy attitude in phrases like “I think,” “I guess,” “Well, maybe…,” or “I suppose?” These are ways to reveal personality through dialogue. Also, have your protagonist use metaphors, similes, and slang within his unique frame of reference.

Avoid talking heads.
Intersperse your lines of dialogue with action and emotional reactions. Conversation that’s not meaningful to your character isn’t going to grip the reader. We want to feel his gut responses. Even when the conversation itself sparkles with emotion, it helps to have the viewpoint character throw in a thought or two about it or perform some action that shows his emotional state. Then we as readers will empathize more strongly with him.

Review your work.
Reread your conversations looking for stilted dialogue, formal speech, out of character responses, and repetitions. This should be part of your editing process.

Dialogue is an important tool in our writer’s toolbox. Use it wisely and your readers will keep coming back for more.

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Radio Interview with Nira Larsen

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 21, 2012

INTERVIEWER: “Let’s welcome mythologist Nira Larsen who has something important to tell you.”

NIRA: “Hello, my name is Nira Larsen. I have important information on a dire threat to mankind. It’s crucial that you listen.” [Gives furtive glance over her shoulder.]

INTERVIEWER: “Can you elaborate, Miss Larsen?”

NIRA: “There’s been a breach in the space/time continuum. I know this is hard to believe, but evil creatures from another dimension have invaded our world. They’re called Trolleks, and they mean to enslave us.”

INTERVIEWER: [Laughs] “Come on, is this some kind of hoax?”

NIRA: “I’m serious. Trolleks look like us, with some differences. The males have large hands and feet and long, ugly noses. The females are beautiful. They give off an irresistible scent that lures people in. Then they put a spell on you so you’ll do whatever they say. Watch out for your neighbors. You don’t know who’s been confounded.”

INTERVIEWER: “What do you mean by ‘confounded’?”

NIRA: “Spellbound into becoming a mind slave. You can’t tell who’s under their influence. Rumor says they’ve already infiltrated world governments. We’re all in terrible danger.”

INTERVIEWER: [Looks askance] “What do they hope to gain by this subterfuge?”

NIRA: [Startled by a noise in the background] “They need us for genetic experiments. But that’s not the worst. The real threat is—”

[A white flash ensues, and the station goes off the air.]

The Invasion Begins…..

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If you heard this on a newscast, would you right away figure it was a hoax? Or would you turn the channel to see if other stations reported something similar?

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Warrior Prince: The Drift Lords Series by Nancy J. Cohen

When mythologist and Florida resident Nira Larsen accepts a job as tour guide for a mysterious stranger, she’s drawn into a nightmare reality where ancient myths come alive and legendary evils seek to destroy her. To survive, she must awaken her dormant powers, but the only person who can help is the man whose touch inflames her passion.

After a dimensional rift in the Bermuda Triangle cracks open and an ancient enemy invades Earth, Zohar—leader of the galactic warriors known as the Drift Lords—summons his troops. He doesn’t count on a redheaded spitfire getting in his way and capturing his heart. Nira has the power to defeat the enemy and to enslave Zohar’s soul. Can he trust her enough to accomplish his mission, or will she lure him to his doom?

Watch the Trailer: http://youtu.be/aVm2FIumw0o

Buy Now: http://bit.ly/anUmcy

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August Reads

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 3, 2012

If you’re looking for some new reads, or are just curious about what I’m reading these days, take a look below. Usually I read more than one book at a time. Currently I’m reading the next C.S. Harris historical mystery, another Alex Rider installment, and a historical romance. How many books do you have going at one time? 

SCORPIA by Anthony Horowitz (Teen Spy Fiction)
Fourteen-year-old British agent Alex Rider is ostensibly on vacation in Italy but he’s really following a clue as to how his father died. When he learns the truth, he joins the criminal organization known as Scorpia. He knows they’re trained assassins, but he’s unaware of their terrifying plan to murder millions of London schoolchildren with a secret weapon.   Scorpia (Alex Rider)

Bent on personal revenge, Alex returns to England with only one mission: kill the person who shot his father. It’s none other than his former MI6 boss, Mrs. Jones. But then his plans start to go awry, and he ends up fighting for his home turf once again. Scorpia isn’t an organization to be thwarted, though, and they’ve made contingencies in case he betrays them.

This story is another exciting adventure in the rousing Alex Rider series, who’s like a junior James Bond fighting evil on a global scale. The fast-paced action will have you turning pages and rushing out to get the sequel. Pure escapist entertainment!

HOW TO PROPOSE TO A PRINCE by Kathryn Caskie (Historical Romance)
Elizabeth Royle is convinced she’s destined to marry a prince, so when she meets a man claiming to be Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, she knows it’s Fate. Little does she realize that her handsome prince is a decoy. His cousin, Lord Whitevale, is actually the prince, and Sumner—the real Marquess of Whitevale—is posing as the royal to draw assassins away.

Elizabeth falls in love with a man whose duty supposedly dictates he wed Princess Charlotte, possibly her half-sister. She despairs when Sumner seems to care for her but keeps getting pulled away for affairs of state. Should she believe her senses or what others are telling her about his need for a political match? She can’t compete against a royal princess.    How to Propose to a Prince (Avon Romantic Treasure)

Her association with the prince proves dangerous when a sniper shoots at them. But even though he isn’t meant for her, Elizabeth seeks to protect him. She has to have faith that he’ll find a way back to her as promised.

Secret identity stories are always engaging. Although the reader knows what’s going on, the anticipation is high for when Elizabeth learns the truth. Will she feel betrayed, or will she believe Sumner’s declarations when he says she’s the one who captured his heart?

LOUISA AND THE COUNTRY BACHELOR by Anna Maclean (Historical Mystery)
This is the second Louisa May Alcott mystery where we read about Louisa’s life as a young woman before she became a famous author. Louisa and her family are vacationing with cousins in New Hampshire. Their rural village suffers a tragedy when a young laborer is found dead, pushed down a ravine. His sister believes one of the shopkeepers killed him so as to buy their piece of land by the railroad track, but Louisa isn’t so easily convinced. Their neighbors harbor secrets, and all isn’t what it seems in this sleepy little town. The questions build as she investigates, especially when the local sheriff suspects her close friend of being the murderer. To prove his innocence, Louisa probes into people’s lives, not realizing she’s putting her own safety at stake. Another delightful installment in a charming series.
Louisa and the Country Bachelor: A Louisa May Alcott Mystery

NORWAY TO HIDE by Maddy Hunter (Mystery)
This entry in Maddy Hunter’s Passport to Peril series is just as amusing as the other stories in her repertoire. You’ll smile as you read about the antics of tour Norway to Hide (Passport to Peril Mysteries)guide Emily Andrews and her senior citizens on their trip to Scandinavia. The Iowan group is dismayed to be thrown in with a bunch of Floridians, even more so when a guest turns up dead. What secrets is this troupe hiding that they’d kill to keep quiet? Norway to Hide is a humorous tale that will have you chuckling and guessing until the final clue.

WHAT ANGELS FEAR by C.S. Harris (Historical Mystery)
This first title in the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series will hook you and reel you in. Accused of a heinous rape/murder, Viscount Devlin flees the authorities and takes refuge in 1811 London where he seeks to clear his name. With various allies to help him, he unravels a scheme involving French spies, political intrigue, blackmail, and greed. Evocative setting details will have you believing you’re in fog-shrouded London as you follow the hero’s adventures into disreputable alleyways and slummy inns as he searches for the killer before the man strikes again. Devlin can’t even trust his own family who harbors damaging secrets. At stake is the life of a woman he once loved and who loves him still. Can he unmask the villain, save the Regency, and avoid the hangman’s noose? Once you read this book, you’ll want to find more stories in Harris’s engaging series.

What Angels Fear: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery, Book 1

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Fact or Fiction?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 20, 2012

Do you write about real life events in your fictional story? As a reader, how can you tell fact from fiction? Are some ideas so far out that they should be relegated to science fiction, or is there a kernel of truth in them? Where do the lines blur?

At Saturday’s meeting of the Florida chapter of MWA, we heard speaker Jim Linder, former Navy aviator and intelligence agent. This man—tall, dark, and handsome—lived a life you’d only find in books. A self-professed fan of Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum novels, as a youth he aspired to adventure. He found it in the work he did. A romance hero come alive, Linder said “the fictional and the real world blend together. Whatever story you want to tell, it’s probably already out there.”

He told stories of notorious Russian smuggler Victor Bout, of how pirates smuggle diesel fuel to diamond mines in South Africa, and of how there’s a market among drug runners for mini-submarines made in the States. “There are bad guys out there who are richer and more powerful than anyone in fiction,” he says. The upsurge in social media has made a difference in his current consulting position. “We use social media a lot. Finding information isn’t the problem. Connecting with the person who has the info is harder.”

As for myself, I use personal experiences and composites of people I meet in my stories.

For example, the Countess in Killer Knots was based on a white-haired lady I noticed on a cruise. She always wore the most fabulous outfits. When I got up the nerve to ask where she shopped, “Paris” was her answer. Why was I not surprised?

In Perish by Pedicure, I visited the North Miami shvitz where Marla goes to interview a suspect. Now, that was an experience!

And the setting in Shear Murder was inspired by Harry P. Leu Gardens in Winter Park, where I’ve been many times. Marla journeys to Coral Gables and the Venetian Pool, another local gem I’d discovered. Visits to the dermatologist and dentist show up in some of my books—in Marla’s viewpoint, of course. Plus a reading from a psychic that I’d experienced shows up in Died Blonde.

Even in Warrior Prince, my upcoming paranormal release, the action starts out in Orlando, Florida on International Drive. The sinister theme park in this story is partially based on an attraction that used to be in the Fort Lauderdale area and designed with other theme parks in mind. I’ll have to admit, though, the action that follows is purely imaginary. Well, almost.

One of the bad guys uses what I call an EM (electromagnetic) grenade in Warrior Rogue: Book Two in the Drift Lords Series. “Are EM weapons real or the stuff of sci-fi?” I asked our speaker. He gave a broad grin. “Many of the things you’d relegate to science fiction are already here.”

Posted in Florida Musings, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Writer’s Brain

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 12, 2011

Can you turn off your writer’s brain? Check out my blog post today over at http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com and leave a comment!

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Networking for Writers

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 10, 2011

It’s always great to gather with other writers and talk about the craft you love. This past weekend, I had the privilege of presenting a Fiction Writing Workshop to Florida Sisters in Crime. If you live in Northern Florida, consider joining this dynamic group. On Saturday, the library community room was filled with over 50 attendees, all eager to take notes.

We covered fiction writing essentials in the morning and business aspects in the afternoon. In between, people met each other and mingled. That’s the best part of conferences, too. You never know who you’ll discover sitting next to you in a seminar or at the bar. You’ll make new writer friends, greet old acquaintances, and learn the industry buzz. Everything I’ve learned about the business of being a professional writer, I have gained from other authors.

Nancy and chapter president Kathy Bain

We’re a generous group, and online blogs offer a tremendous amount of valuable information. So do professional organizations, and in Florida, we have branch chapters of RWA, MWA, and SinC, and this year the national Ninc conference will be held here, too. Sometimes even RT makes an appearance in FL.

Don’t know what all these abbreviations mean? Then jump on the bandwagon and find out. After sitting alone at the computer for days on end, don’t you yearn to talk about writing with other like-minded individuals? If so, look for a writing workshop near you and sign up to attend.

*****

If you live in SE Florida, there’s still time to sign up for the Author’s Academy:

Saturday August 13, 10am – Noon

Point of View. Whose head are we in and why are we there?
Instructor: Diane A.S. Stuckart, author of the Leonardo da Vinci series.

Saturday September 10, 10am – Noon

How To Get Published. Learn what it takes to get your work published.
Instructor: Joanna Campbell Slan, author of Photo Snap Shot.

Saturday September 24, 10am – Noon

Finding an Agent. Query Letters, Synopses, and the Pitch!
Instructor: Nancy J. Cohen, author of the Bad Hair Day mysteries.

All workshops are held at Murder on the Beach Bookstore, 273 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach, FL. All instructors are multi-published authors. Charge for each workshop is $25 per person. Cash, check or credit cards accepted. Make Your Reservation Now! Call 561-279-7790 or email murdermb@gate.net

Posted in Business of Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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