About J.C

Mother to three beautiful girls, and writer of (mostly) speculative fiction

Bare-Naked Lola – Melissa Bourbon Ramirez

Going undercover is second nature for Private Investigator Lola Cruz, but she’s out of her league when the case of a murdered Royals Courtside Dancer leads her to a local nudist resort. Parading around the sidelines of Sacramento’s professional basketball scene in a barely-there cheerleading outfit is one thing—but parading around in nothing but smile? If she has any chance of hiding this from her traditional family and on-again/off-again boyfriend Jack, she’s going to have a lot more than her duct tape bra and killer dance moves to keep under wraps….

Sadly, I haven’t read the first two of this series – though that doesn’t really matter as Miss Ramirez does a great job of seamlessly introducing any necessary history into the narrative without bogging the story down.

It was a great, light weight read. I powered through it in less than 24 hours and it provided me with a nice little escape and plenty of giggles. Lola Cruz is a character I could easily grow to love: she’s kick ass, loyal to her family and friends, true to her values (once she realizes what they are), and also has a softer side.

There is quite a large cast in the novel, loads of secondary characters, most of whom are a mix of the usual people you’d find in these novels, but each with a unique spin on that archetype. The story line was hilarious, and the situations Lola found herself in had me in stitches.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who likes these kinds of mysteries – so if you are a fan of Stephanie Plum, then you’ll probably enjoy this one. Worth checking out.

Hanging By A Thread – Sophie Littlefield

Summer is the best part of the year in Winston, California, and the Fourth of July is the highlight of the season. But the perfect town Clare remembers has changed, and everyone is praying that this summer will be different from the last two—that this year’s Fourth of July festival won’t see one of their own vanish without a trace, leaving no leads and no suspects.

The media are in a frenzy predicting a third disappearance, but the town depends on tourist dollars, so the residents of Winston are trying desperately to pretend nothing’s wrong.  And they’re not the only ones hiding something. 

Clare, a seamstress who redesigns vintage clothing, has been blessed—or perhaps cursed—with a gift: she can see people’s pasts when she touches their clothes. When she stumbles across a denim jacket that once belonged to Amanda Stavros, last year’s Fourth of July victim, Clare sees her perfect town begin to come apart at the seams.  In a town where appearance means everything, how deep beneath the surface will Clare dig to uncover a murderer?

When I read the above blurb for Hanging By A Thread, I thought it sounded like it could be my cup of tea – I really enjoyed Littlefield’s Aftertime series, and while I didn’t realize that this one was YA, that didn’t put me off. Littlefield has an engaging style of writing that transcends age or genre, so I thought I could probably trust her on this one.

It’s very much a YA novel though, and those aren’t exactly my cup of tea. There is a lot of inner chatter, and the main character is a talented and creative seamstress who spends vast amounts of time thinking about clothes and working with them. Some of this was really interesting, but for a woman lacking in style like me, it probably wasn’t the best match up.

That said, I actually enjoyed the book. It was a fun, lightweight read that I burned through very quickly. I really liked Clare, and I loved the idea of psychometry that was linked only to clothing. The fact that she is willing to risk learning things she doesn’t want to, shows just how important this passion for clothes of hers is. I enjoyed reading about her conflict between wanting to fit into this small town, as well as her desire to stay true to who she is. The cast of characters were your typical tight knit community and I wasn’t sure who the killer it was revealed near the end.

So in summary, this book is a nice blend of cozy mystery and paranormal YA romance, which isn’t something I have seen much of, but definitely think there is a market for. Worth a read, in any event :-)

The Kingdom – Amanda Stevens

Deep in the shadowy foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies a dying town….

My name is Amelia Gray. They call me The Graveyard Queen. I’ve been commissioned to restore an old cemetery in Asher Falls, South Carolina, but I’m coming to think I have another purpose here.

Why is there a cemetery at the bottom of Bell Lake? Why am I drawn time and again to a hidden grave I’ve discovered in the woods? Something is eating away at the soul of this town—this withering kingdom—and it will only be restored if I can uncover the truth.

I read and reviewed the first book in this series (The Restorer) a year ago, and finally the second book is out! I was so excited when I saw that The Kingdom was coming, and I waited very patiently. It was totally worth the wait.

This book is quite different from the first – not only is Amelia moving onto a new graveyard, but she is moving away from her love interest in the first novel, and away from everything that is familiar and safe.

Asher Falls is in a world of its own. A creepy world that seems to have its own rules and far too many secrets for Amelia’s liking. Very quickly it becomes obvious that everyone is protecting their own interests, and no-one is telling her the full truth of the situation.

Like the first, this book was deliciously dark and beautifully written. I quickly overcame the brief confusion I had at finding that Amelia and Devlin were not an item any longer, and poured myself into the mysteries within these pages. The book this time seems less about the graveyard, and more to do with the skeletons in the towns closet, and what they mean for Amelia. We finally learn more about her parentage and origins, and how she came to have the ability to see, and communicate, with the dead.

Amelia has spent a lot of her life playing by her fathers rules, which have until now kept her safe, but this town, and the people in it (living and dead), have their own agenda’s. Amelia has never been more at risk, and there were plenty of times I was on the edge of my seat, eager to find out how everything would come together at the end.

That said, it’s not a perfect book by any means. Amelia is in danger a lot and she makes some awfully risky decisions. I could understand some of them, but others felt like they were a little bit on the not-so-smart side for a character I felt was pretty savvy in the first book.

However, I still really enjoyed it and went straight from this book to the third in the series, which will be released later this year. I’ll be reviewing that closer to it’s release – but I can tell you that I really enjoyed that one too!

The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse – review

What happens when we die? 

This has been the third question on mankind’s FAQ list since the dawn of time (numbers one and two being: Is this edible? and Excuse me, would you care to breed?). 

I know what happens. Believe me, I’d rather not. But I do. 

There is a lighthouse, and it guides our souls along the narrow path to being reborn as humans. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, as my undead granddad and the Tibetan special mission monk in my kitchen have kindly told me, there’s a problem with the lighthouse. And if the world is to be saved, someone needs to fix it.  Which is where I come in: George Larson, eighteen years old. Who could possibly be better suited to save the world? 

Well, almost anyone. Especially as being a teenage guy is nothing at all about question three but all about questions one and two.  And really, that’s complicated enough as it is.

This is the first release from new publisher on the block Steam Press, by Swedish author, Fredrik Brounéus. Firmly set in the landscape of the South Island of New Zealand, it brings together fantasy elements with science fiction, and perhaps what some might consider horror elements – I mean, it has a zombie, though he only seems to be worried about his next coffee fix. Your brains are safe.

From the get-go, this book was making me smile. The main character, George, is very likable, and Brounéus has nailed the late teen, kiwi male perspective. He made for an amusing protagonist, and one that I could get behind. I wanted him to ‘win’ though I wasn’t sure what that might entail, being that there is a great deal of mystery surrounding what it is he’s meant to be doing.

I was drawn right into that mystery, and had to read on to find out what on earth was going on. Eventually all the clues, hints and suggestions become clear in a grand reveal that blew my mind. LOVE the concepts in this book, though I don’t want to say too much as I don’t want to ruin it for you. If you like your humor mixed with some action, some mysticism, philosophy and science, then I think you might really enjoy this book. I adored the footnotes (a really nice change from reading footnotes in research articles!), the drawings and the easy to engage with style that this book is written in.

If you are keen to check it out, head over to Steam Press and read a sample!

Pure Blood – Melissa Pearl

It is only a matter of time before Gemma’s parents find out she traveled through time to bring Harrison back into existence. The fear of being found out is a heavy weight on her shoulders, but she refuses to give up on everything she’s fought for. Harrison is worth the risk. 

The couple draws closer together as they battle opposing forces from all sides. They stay strong until Gemma’s parents welcome an exchange student into their home. Simeon, a gorgeous Californian, is as smooth as coffee and, supposedly, a fellow time spirit. Gemma’s parents expect her to take him everywhere and, of course, fall in love with him. After all, he is the boy they have chosen for her. 

No longer able to sneak off alone, Gemma must watch every step as she waits for the inevitable nightmare to catch up to her. Her parents ultimate goal is to get that last necklace and open the box hidden in their safe. If they do, Gemma knows her entire world will unravel. 

As the danger mounts, Gemma must decide if she has the courage to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the ones she loves and stop to her parents’ destructive plans.

Pure Blood (Time Spirit Trilogy) is the third and final (for now) book in the series, which finally answers the question that has been threaded throughout books one and two – what are Gemma’s parents up to?

I have to say that I was surprised! I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this – it’s fabulous when an author can surprise the reader, and I felt like Melissa did. The escalation of violence and erratic behaviour from her parents, and the exchange student they planted into Gemma’s life made things very difficult for her, but those were not the only challenges faced in this book, because Harrison’s mother suddenly goes cold on Gemma, and neither her, or Harrison, can figure out why. The two struggle to figure out who they really are, and what that means for themselves as individuals, as well as a couple.

There were a lot of threads to be tied up in the book, and while some of them were obvious, there were plenty of surprises – not everything is as you might suspect. I don’t really want to say too much, because I would hate to give the ending away, but this is a great finale to the series, and I was really satisfied with how it was wrapped up. Gemma is an amazing girl, and my heart broke for her several times during this book. Still, she stayed true to herself, and pushed on despite the odds. If you’ve read the first two books in this series, then you NEED to read this one. You won’t be disappointed.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Melissa Pearl puts out next, and you can be sure I’ll be grabbing a copy, whatever it turns out to be.

Blackbirds – Chuck Wendig

This is the first novel I’ve read by the author who is probably most famous for his foul-mouthed but fabulous writing advice (I’m currently reading 500 Ways To Be A Better Writer, full of great tips!), Chuck Wendig’s latest book, Blackbirds, is quite frankly, stunning.

Let’s start with the cover. Because OMFG from the moment I saw it I loved it and knew I HAD to read the book. It’s gorgeous.

You can try and tell me that you’re not curious, but I won’t believe you for a second.

Miriam Black knows when you will die. She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides. 

But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim. 

No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

This is a book right up my alley. Right from the beginning I was caught up in Miriam’s web. She is not a typical character by any means, and her gift, or curse depending on how you want to look at it, means that she sees life in a totally different way from those around her. At times I might not have agreed with her choices, but she was true to herself the whole way through. And when she meets Louis, she is confronted by the kind of life she might  have had, under other circumstances. He is sweet and caring in a world that has treated her badly, and she is the only one who might be able to save him.

This is not a book for everyone: there is a lot of profanity in it, but then, I think it was fitting to the kind of story, and the range of characters included. There is a lot of violence, this is a brutal and intense novel which does not hold back. If you are squeamish, you might want to sit this one out. But if those things don’t bother you so much, then I think you should definitely pick this up. It’s one hell of a ride. Not only is it dark and brutal, but it’s also funny, and sweet in parts. It runs the gamut of human emotion, and Miriam will draw you in almost despite yourself.

There are questions still unanswered about why Miriam can see how people will die, and plenty of room for exploration in her world. Luckily I only have to wait until later in the year for the second installment in this series. Chuck Wendig has secured a place on my ‘must-buy’ authors list.

Wild Mind – Natalie Goldberg

Here is compassionate, practical, and often humorous advice about how to find time to write, how to discover your personal style, how to make sentences come alive, and how to overcome procrastination and writer’s block – including more than thirty provocative “Try this” exercises to get your pen moving.

And here also is a larger vision of the writer’s task: balancing daily responsibilities with a commitment to writing; knowing when to take risks as a writer and a human being; coming to terms with success and failure and loss; and learning self-acceptance – both in life and art.

Wild Mind will change your way of writing. It  may also change your life.

I read this book back in October last year while I was taking a break from my writing. I was hoping that it would help me figure out what was blocking me from writing my story, and while to begin with it didn’t seem as though I was getting much from it, by the time I reached the ending I was pleasantly surprised.

This is a meandering book, with the stories shared not being told in chronological order, nor do they always seem to have a clear point. However, there are lots of examples about how this particular author lives, and how the way she lives impacts on the way she writes. The things she shares are interesting, though sometimes I think a little outdated. A lot of this was written several decades ago and does show.

A lot of the information in this book is similar to the things you might find in other books about writing, so if you are new to the scene, or looking for a different take then it could be a good one to check out. Though if you’re turned off by Zen/Buddhist stuff, then you might want to pass.

Personally, it wasn’t until I very nearly reached the end that I started to grasp the revelation that has helped changed my mindset – the realization that is now allowing me to write without the pressure, to breathe in the story and exhale it onto the page.

My best writing comes when I write the story from beginning to end. When I write it full, when I infuse it with the details that make the characters and world come to life, those quirky things that are vital to the who and the where. And this is the message I am taking from this book.

I don’t think it’s for everyone, but for those who do pick it up, I think there is every chance you’ll find something useful to take away from it.