Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cary Allen Stone Wins the Bet - A review of After the Evil

A Review by Linda Root

A few months ago author  Cary Allen Stone's publicist sent me a challenge.  She attached a copy of the second book in his mystery series with a bet I would want to review it.  Then I heard from Stone, who thought it might be my kind of mystery. He was right. I ended up reading each of the four books in the series. This is the first one in the chronology and the second one I read.

Those who know me personally are aware of my professional history as a prosecutor. The men and women I worked with on the Homicide Detail knew I made a practice of visiting crime scenes. There was a reason for this.When I became a supervisor, I urged others to do so.  In essence, crime scenes speak. Every scene I ever visited had a message. Some screamed.

I am absolutely candid in saying I never once visited a scene that made me physically sick. Maybe I was just lucky. The most startling of my observations from the first scene to the last one --a triple shortly before I retired--was always the same: the absence of life. Stone captures it in his writing. The surprise came in discovering Stone was not a veteran detective, but a retired pilot flying corporate jets, another career which cultivates an awareness of issues of life and death and a unique glimpse of the dynamics of power. Applying the adage 'write what  you know', Stone picks his serial killer from his experience with the airline industry.  Nothing else about her is Orthodox.

Obviously, the profilers' classic definition of a serial killer is not set in granite: if it were, they would be easier to spot.  The one word that seems to fit them all is 'driven.'  Stone's killer is not a thrill seeker or megalomaniac.   A federal agent trained at Quantico might poke holes in Stone portrayal, claiming the character is not a true serial killer, just a twisted soul who kills a lot of people. The profile at issue in Stone's novel is the killer's profile of her victim. In her eyes, she is an Avenger.  On the other side of the battle, we have hard-boiled Homicide Detective Jake Roberts and FBI Profiler Mika Scott, and a host of characters, most of them exceptionally well-drawn. The combination of a sympathetic serial killer and a flawed law enforcement professional, each obsessed by demons of their own construction,  provides a satisfying reading experience for anyone who sees the line between Good and Evil as having a jagged edge.

Stone writes with a touch of Spillane but in a contemporary style hinting of Nelson Demille. Jake Roberts reminds me of DeMille's John Corey, but with a touch more pathos. At times, I was turned off by what I considered unlikely homespun dialog from Lori, but overall it fits the plotline, especially after we realize she is not the only killer in the mix. If the copy has a few rough spots, my advice is to forgive them.  This not a book to read while holding a red pencil. The novel earns the label 'mystery thriller.' And the series gets better as Stone's style evolves.

Author's Note:

Stone's JakeRoberts books are senstibly princed and can be seen on Amazon:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A review a week - and this one is terrific: The Newest in the Roma Nova Series and a very 2016 theme

I fervently hope that Alison Morton is busy writing the next book in her Roma Nova series. I have just finished Insurrectio, but Insurrectio is not finished with me. While it is the most recent of the five books to date in Ms. Morton’s Roma Nova series, it is second in the chronological order of the series. When I opened it, it was the first Alternative History I have read in recent memory. I no sooner put it down before I moved on to the boxed set Inceptio, Perfiditas, and Successio, and ordered Aurelia.  In five days, I had read them all.
The concept of Roma Nova differs from most alternative histories.  Many begin at a definitive moment in the past, but proceed with a different outcome: What if the Russians had been colonizers instead of fur traders, or if NapolĂ©on had won? What would Europe look like if Hitler’s nuclear programs had progressed a tad faster?  Morton’s alternative histories begin in the1960’s (Aurelia), in a small country about the size of Luxembourg, crowded in between what we call Austria and modern Italy, but which happens to be the remnant of Roman civilization, hence, Roma Nova, the New Rome. In a sense, the book is a time slip in reverse.  In the first five books of the series, the reader is not troubled by the roughly fifteen hundred year history of civilization since the Fall of Rome and the Rise of Donald Trump. Hopefully, Morton is saving that for later. What we experience in Insurrectio is a small nation with a vestige of Roman society and values occupying a small corner of a modern 1980’s world complete, with late Twentieth Century technology and institutions including, for example, the CIA.
This is not a book for those who are addicted to the history of the Dark Ages.  The citizens of Roma Nova are moderns, but with a twist. Nevertheless, Morton, who is a student of Roman history, gives her novels and authentically Roman flavor that edifies and entertains.  Her Roma Nova is an oligarchy ruled by The Twelve Families, each headed by women, under the titular governance of an Imperatrix.  In Insurrectio, the female figurehead is gullible and weak. Our protagonist, Aurelia Mitela, is the leader of the most powerful of the families. The antagonist is a handsome and utterly amoral Cauis Tellus, scion of another of the ancient families, who has been serving prison terms for a variety of crimes against the state and Aurelia in particular. 
The stage is set when the hesitant imperatrix, who is unable or unwilling to address the corruption and injustices in the society she rules, welcomes him back into the fold. .As Aurelia fears, Count Tellus has an entirely different view of how and by whom Roma Nova should be governed. While his early goals are achieved through charm and manipulation, Aurelia is not fooled. He is setting up a power play. Eliminating or incapacitating Aurelia is part of his agenda. He first strikes out at her fragile daughter, but he also moves against others who oppose him including his brother Quintus and his newly acquired stepson, child of the Imperatrix. But Aurelia is more than a skilled stateswoman. She is a former member of the Praetorian Guard and a combat veteran, and she has already experienced Tellus at most ruthless. Nevertheless, her enemy has spent well more than a decade in prison plotting the overthrow of his country’s government and the personal destruction of the woman he has loathed since childhood. His initial successes leave her spearheading a faltering resistance. When she cannot prevail against Tellus’s meticulously planned insurrection, she concentrates her efforts on survival. Morton has framed the final chapters of Insurrection in a manner assuring her readers that regardless of the fate of Aurelia Mitela and Cauis Tellus, the struggles of Roma Nova are not over yet. 
From a purely analytical point of view, this is an intelligently conceived and meticulously researched and written action book that will not disappoint the most discriminating of readers. While others disagree with me, I am happy to have read the series in the order in which they have been written.,

Sunday, January 3, 2016


I have not been updating this blog for several reasons, the major one because my husband Chris, my constant lover and best friend, was approaching the last chapter in our love story. Also, I have been spending a great deal of time and effort reading and posting reviews on the excellent blog entitled  The Review and reading entries in the 2015 M.m.Bennetts Award competition, with the winner to be announced at the Historical Novel Society annual convention in Oxford in September.  The long list comes out in February, which is fast approaching.

However, as 2016 dawns, I have resolved to begin posting reviews I would not publish elsewhere because they may contain an occasional spoiler and almost always will be a rant. I consider them an intellectual exercise in polemics not unlike the reviews I wrote of that silly television spectacular called Reign.  But be assured, I do not waste my time or yours on a rant without a reason.

What follows in a Four Star Review I wrote of 14th Protocol by Nathan Goodman and posted on Goodreads.The reason for its inclusion here is simple. Mr. Goodman debuts as a novelist with a remarkable Five-Star spy novel with a One-Star ending.  He stops his narrative as the protagonist Special Agent JanaBaker is either dying or already dead. To discover which, a reader must access another of his works, which with incredible chutzpah, Goodman calls a Post-Quel.
Because the first ninety-five percent of the book is compelling, I rated Fourteenth Protocol a four-star, but if I were grading Mr.Goodman's approach to promotion and marketing, he wouldn't even rate a single star.  So, do you want to read an outstanding book from a promising author but find yourself compelled to download another publication to discovered how it ends,  or should you just stop at the last five pages and supply an ending of your own?  I admit I am a sucker. In a weak moment, I downloaded the Post-Quel.  But do you want to bother? Read my review, and then, you decide.

This is a better than average, fast paced international techno-thriller that would be totally implausible if we did not live in such an implausible world. How far would a clandestine service go to win the prize? Perhaps father than any of us wants to believe until someone lets slip a dirty secret or starts asking forbidden questions. A past paced, well-written novel with undertones of the king of principles our society is lacking, such as self-sacrificing friendship and integrity that defies all logic. Far-fetched unless you read the news. The protagonist S.A. Jana Baker is a strong character, and her infatuated nerdy counterpart is believable and charmingly naive. If there is an antagonist, it is the unbridled forces of government spy agencies and the executive branch. As to the quality of the overall reading experience, a reader would be wise to stop a couple of pages before you reach the end or be frustrated by a five-star novel with a one-star ending. Being a novelist myself, I rewrote the last four pages in my mind and decided not to bother with another of Mr. Goodman's books unless I can read the last four pages before I read the first three hundred and hope he has reformed.

When I checked the reviews on Amazon, I discovered many other readers had the same reaction I did to what one reviewer called 'cheesy'.  Notwithstanding the fact that Goodman's book is being cleverly marketed by his publisher and hyped by his agent and thus, will probably outsell all seven of mine, shame on you, Nathan Goodman,  for alienating your audience.

Friday, October 30, 2015

In case you wonder I have been doing with what's left of my life....

There is a debate among historical novelists as to what is too much history and what is not enough. To a large degree, it depends upon the marriage of the reader and the writer.  If I read a historical novel in which the entire story could just as easily occur in modern San Bernardino, for example, perhaps that's where it belongs.  There needs to be a purpose for placing a story in another time slot. Sometimes the incentive to do so is the simple truth that some historical periods are more compelling than others. Setting a story in the 16th century, for example, requires the author to visit there and carry its magic to the reader.  To do so with panache requires more research than a quick visit to Wikipedia, although at least some excursion there would help. It is a reasonable place to start.

One issue a historical novelist needs to address is whether the protagonist or the history drives the plot. One example of how this tricky issue can be handled is Light in the Labyrinth by Wendy Dunn.  Doctor Dunn has a wealth of knowledge of Tudor history tucked into her head, and her depiction of the last days of Anne Boleyn is stunning, but the story remains very much about Catherine Carey and her acceptance of her step-father's love. As heart-rending as Queen Anne's beheading is portrayed, while the story centers around Anne Boleyn, it is not Anne's story. It is Catherine's. . Dr.Dunn's ability to master the distinction sets her book apart from other novels about the execution of the queen.

Applying my observations as a critic and reviewer to my published works, I have revisited each of them and asked the same question.  Even my debut novel The First Marie and the Queen of Scots is not a fictionalized biography of Marie Stuart's life.  It is about Marie Flemyng, aka 'Mally,' and her struggle to seize control of her own story. Doing so requires her to resolve her relationship with her cousin the Queen of Scots, without rejecting her entirely or becoming her apologist.  To that end, the novel is successful.  Does it have a tad too much history for some readers? Yes, indeed.  I did away with some of it in the second edition, which reads better than the first.

  I am going to do something drastic to my second book, perhaps making it into a trilogy. If it has too much history, it is because the protagonist William Kirkcaldy did too much living to cover in anything but a tome, and tomes are out of style.

 The Legacy of the Queen of Scots

 When I began writing the books in the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series, I was ready to write genuine historical novels. Viola!  While reviewers have not been forgiving of my editing errors, I am no longer being told to stop calling my work historical fiction and start labeling it fictionalized history.  At the risk of too much hype and not enough blog, here is a brief synopsis of each of the four novels to date in the series.

The Midwife's Secret: The Mystery of the Hidden Princess:  

During the latter half of the sixteenth century, rumors persisted claiming the Queen of Scots gave birth to a live daughter just before she escaped from Loch Leven in 1568.  According to the queen's secretary Claud Nau, the child was smuggled to a convent in France. Sometime between 1568 -1573, the Abbess Renee d' Guise, the Queen of Scot's aunt, brought a child named Marguerite d' Kircaldie to Saint Pierre les Dames du Rheims.  When visitors came to the Abbey, the child was hidden in the cellars. Most residents in the convent believed she was the child of Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, the Scottish knight executed in 1573 for holding Edinburgh Castle in the name of the Queen.  But Kirkcaldy's only child, Janet, Lady Ferniehirst, died mysteriously in London in 1570-72.  Madame Renee's risks her position as abbess and the pressures of her powerful family to thwart those who either seek to destroy or exploit the sequestered child while the resolute young postulate known as La Belle Ecossaise struggles to pursue her destiny, regardless of her origin.

The Other Daughter: Midwife's Secret II:


There is another Marguerite Kirkcaldy. She is indeed the daughter of the Knight of Grange, born posthumously to a laundress in Edinburgh Castle who is a relative of Mariel Fraser, the midwife in the first of the legacy series.  Her family and friends know her as Daisy, the Scottish version of the French name  Marguerite.  Her mother chose it because Kirkcaldy loved the blue variety of the Daisy popular in France, les Marguerites   Daisy is a precocious child who ends up well-placed in the entourage of the Countess of Argyll, who takes the laundress Violet Frasier and her bastard infant under her wing. In her adolescence, she hears the tales of the other Marguerite and her curiosity is aroused.  Ambitious and adventurous, Kirkcaldy's daughter grows into a young woman who defies convention and makes a name for herself as her step-father Will Cockie's apprentice in the jeweler's trade.  On a person note, she struggles between her infatuation with reiver warlord Sir Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst, who happens to be her nephew,  and the king's browdinstair Will Hepburn,  the bastard son of James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, to  Norwegian heiress Anna Tronds.  
The two men in Daisy's life have more in common than their pursuit of Daisy. When Andrew was a child, he was taught to think of the wee lass his mother escorted to France in 1572 was a member of his family, the Knight Kirkcaldy's child.  But Will Hepburn is convinced the nun La Belle Ecossaise is the fabled daughter of his father James Hepburn and the Queen of Scots. Unfortunately, there are others in Scotland who have heard the rumors of the birth at Loch Leven.  One is King James VI, and another is Will Hepburn's first cousin, the present Earl of Bothwell, Wild Frank Stewart, who plans to locate the king's half sister and use her as a pawn, no matter what price La Belle Ecossaiseis forced to pay.

1603: The Queen's Revenge

Elizabeth Tudor is dying, and the King of Scots is tapped to inherit her throne.  But Francis Stewart, the Earl of Bothwell, once the king's favorite and a darling of the Protestant Kirk, has become the champion of the Catholic earls of the Scottish North. He brokers a wild plot to the King of Spain and the Pope, seeking support for a plan to capture the nun Marguerite d'Kircaldie and carry her off to Scotland in an evasion force he and the Duke of Alva will command.  

But he has not counted on the return from the dead of Will Hepburn of Hailes, who is believed to have been lost at sea, or the ingenuity of his cousin Will's guidwife Daisy Kirkcaldy, Edinburgh's notorious wad wife. In an adventure culminating in the Spanish Netherlands, exiled James Maitland, Madame Renee and La Belle Ecossaise's beloved champion Charles de Guise, Duke of Mayenne, join the little band of Scots to save the Stuart monarchy and protect La Belle Ecossaise from becoming a pawn in a struggle likely to destroy her life.

In The Shadow of the Gallows:     

And now, hopefully in time for November 5, best known as Guy Fawkes Day, comes the latest in the Legacy series, as Will and Daisy ride south to rescue their son Wee Peter, who has been kidnapped to force Hepburn's silence concerning a plot brewing in England aimed at killing the royal family. Is this a plot of aristocratic zealots, or does the Gunpowder Treason have deeper roots, some of which implicate persons in high places, some of whom are Scots?
Join Will and Daisy, the Kers and Trotters, and James Maitland of Lethington as they balance their determination to rescue six-year-old Peter Hepburn against their commitment to the King and Queen of Scotland and England and their children.  All of my books except In the Shadow of the Gallows are available on Amazon and as Kindle books.  The Shadow of the Gallows will be joining them next month.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

An Old Post with a Strong message. THE POLARIZATION OF AMERICA

When a child goes missing under suspicious circumstances, we are told that the first few hours are critical.  That is the reason behind the Amber alerts. When I was a prosecutor working with the San Bernardino County specialized detectives of the Crimes Against Children unit, we were amazed at the audacity of those who kidnap a child, often in daylight on a busy street or out of an enclosed front yard. But what kind of audacity does it take to highjack a nation? 
Is the culprit stealthy or bold? Surely, I ask myself, there must be myriad witnesses to the crime. But who are they? And then comes the obvious answer. We all are. Every single one of us stood by like the citizen across the street who thought he was watching a parent retrieving a toddler from day care, or picking up his kid on his way home from soccer practice.  We were just that oblivious to the snatching of America.  But now that we know that America is missing, we should have little difficulty recovering her.  A nation is hard to hide.  And again the answer is obvious. Her hi-jackers are not hiding her.  They have changed her and released her back to us. At first glance, she seems just fine, but what we fail to recognize unless we look very, very carefully, is that America is not America anymore.
And when we look closely at one of the widely circulated views of America, we do see a change. America was once populated by Americans--new ones, old ones, Native Americans, immigrants, but Americans, or at least, living breathing people who resided within the boundaries of the United States.  But according to the map I see almost every day at one site or another, the new America is not populated by people.  It is filled by red and blue pixels. There is no United States. There are Red states and Blue states, and a few that are in an identity crisis and shown in pink or pale blue or in several shades of gray. 
So here is my question of the day (Day 2): Until the past five years, when have you looked at a map of the United States divided into Red America and Blue America, other than during a Presidential election campaign?   This new America does not have a past or a future, but just one never-ending election campaign.  And to those who counter that having an informed populace is a good thing, I submit that having a misinformed populace fed a diet of polemics and propaganda is not so good.  At least think about it.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Watch for Speed Bumps, and as the English say, Mind the Gap -and other comments about aging.

It's been a long time since I've posted on my own blog. I've become accustomed to always being a guest and never a hostess. It's time for me to start expressing myself on those matters guaranteed to offend someone somewhere. Better to express them here than on someone else's site.
One of the most exciting things I've done in 2015 is functioning on the Board of the M.m.Bennetts Award. One of my duties was screening entries to make sure that met the criteria we established, guided by the legacy of M.m.Bennetts, a highly gifted historical fiction author who spent years as an editor and reviewer and had just begun to produce her masterworks when cancer struck.  Not a happy story, but one of which we should all take heed. So, whoever you are and whatever you do, my advice is to hurry up and live your dream.
There are some lessons about aging best learned while we are young, but unlikely to be appreciated until you are old enough to realize the Golden Years are a thin layer of the good stuff over the brass.  Here are a few of them:
Sex is a function. Love is a sentiment.  They can co-exist, or not.
Do not trust any automated program to present your written product the way you typed it.
Do not trust your fingers to duplicate your thoughts.
If you are a writer, even if you have to sell your designer shoes at a garage sale, get an editor.
If you are a writer, even if you cannot find an editor who will work for what your designer shoes earned at the garage sale, sell your jewelry and your family heirlooms and get an editor.
Do not trust financial institutions who peddle their credit cards one month and lower your credit line the next because you took the bait and now have too many cards.
Do not trust banks that encourage you to transfer balances from your 'highest interest credit cards' to one of theirs, and then lower your credit limit when you do, because you have used too high a percentage of your available balance.
When you see a photo on Facebook of your closest friends at a party given in honor of another friend, and it's the first you heard about it, time to revise your list of friends.
If you have large dogs, switch to Industrial Chic furniture with metal legs. The young ones chew and the old ones pee.
If you want total privacy, stay off the grid.
Never waste your money on expensive frames for photos of your children's spouses until they've been married at least fifteen years.
Celebrate your birthday by throwing out all of the things you inherited from your elders and never liked.
Clear your bookshelf of every book you've never read, and sell them at a garage sale or throw them in the trash.Then clear your bookshelf of every book you've read once but will never read again, and donate them to a thrift store operated by a charity. Next, clear your bookshelf of every book you've read and think everyone should read at least once and donate them to a library. Finally, reshelve the books you consider a part of who you are and BUY MORE BOOKS.
Repeat the above as to the clothes in your closet, and the jewelry in your jewelry box.
If you are a woman over 75  or have osteoporosis, get rid of your three and four-inch heels.
If you suffer from vertigo, don't get up too fast.  Peeing in the bed is better than peeing in a bedpan.
Consider doing your holiday shopping out of the treasures you have stashed.
If you want to be a blogger, blog at least three times a week.  It's like exercise.  It gets easier if you start small and ease into it.
It's better to laugh than to cry.  It takes a while for laugh lines to form. Red swollen eyes are visible immediately, and you'll have to wear sunglasses even when it's dark.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A brief expose of the worst book ever written about Marie Stuart and the Four Maries, IMHO.

Remember the expression, For crying out loud?  It was something people said in the 1940s when they saw or heard something outrageous. Alas, it is 2015, and I am just short of SCREAMING out loud. I have just read the worst novel ever written about the Queen of Scots. But that 's just my opinion.  Yesterday I posted a reviewed in which I admitted  I had only read the first 35 pages because I could not deal with the inaccuracies. I gave the book three stars because the writing was decent, and the editing was quite good. Tonight I went back and read the remainder in case I had been too hasty in dissing it. Big Mistake

 I should have removed it from my Kindle library and read something more intellectually challenging, like the speeches of Michelle Bachman.  Mayhap I should have finished the book last night and given it an honest one star. Because I, too, am a novelist and sympathetic to the challenges we face, I do not give one-star reviews.  Maybe I'm jealous because the author outsells me.

The writing in the grossly disappointing book went from inaccurate to downright mendacious. It is not quite a print version of Reign, but I find it equally offensive.The producers of Reign did not pretend to sweat issues of historical accuracy. Other reviewers (6) of the book claim the writer accurately researched the topic. That is really scary. Mayhap she did. Do libraries still shelve World Book?

Alas, it is 12:18 AM, PST, too late (or early) to scream. I think I'll have another glass of Apothic White and calm down. I've become an intellectual snob in my old age. The historical distortions in the novel at issue are so much worse than anything P.G  has written;  I am taking back every mean thing I've ever said about The Other Boleyn Girl. I'd try sleeping, but I'd have nightmares.

The amazing thing is, according to Amazon, this book outsells my novel The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, which may have its editing glitches, but is a well-researched historical novel covering the same territory. So who am I to head-butt someone who is successful?
But, Hey! Did you know the kings and queens of England are all buried in a vault at a place called Kingston Abbey?  So much for Westminster Abbey's Henry VII Chapel, Windsor Castle chapel where Henry VIII and Jane Seymour are interred,  and a couple of interesting car parks here and there., to say nothing of the Royal Masoleum at Frogmire  where Victoria rests. And, silly me. I thought Elizabeth Tudor died in 1603. Shows what I know. If my protagonist Marie Flemyng from the First Marie had shiny black hair, why did the poets of the Pleiades called her the most beautiful blond woman in Christendom?  And I had no idea 'burly'borderer Bothwell was having supper with the Queen of Scots and David Rizzio on the night of Rizzio's murder. I guess I am looking at a different guest list.  Time for the wine. I feel a scream building.
I choose not to name the title or the author of the book which triggered the emergence of my dark side. You will recognize it if you check the Look Inside feature before you hit the Buy Now button. It is the story which begins with Mary Seton's night time vigil at Fotheringhay, at a time when she was well ensconced at Saint Pierre les Dames du Rheims. It ends even worse, with author's notes informing us where the bodies of the Royal are buried.  I tried to Google Kingston Abbey, and damned if I could find it. I must be living in a not quite parallel universe.  Sour grapes, you say? What the hell.  As long as the wine isnae corked, I'll drink it.