Wednesday, July 31, 2019

"The Subject of Malice" by Cynthia Kuhn

The Subject of Malice
(Lila Maclean Academic Mystery Book 4)
by Cynthia Kuhn

The Subject of Malice (Lila Maclean Academic Mystery Book 4) by Cynthia Kuhn

The Subject of Malice is the fourth book in the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series by Cynthia Kuhn. Also available: The Semester of Our Discontent, The Art of Vanishing (read my blog post), and The Spirit in Question (read my blog post).

The Subject of Malice is currently on tour with Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours. The tour stops here today for an excerpt and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

The organizers have rustled up plenty of surprises for the literary conference at Tattered Star Ranch. But the murder of an influential scholar wasn’t on the program - someone has clearly taken the theme of Malice in the Mountains to heart. This shocking crime is only the beginning: Other dangers and deceptions are soon revealed.
English professor Lila Maclean has a full agenda: She must convince a press to publish her book (possibly), ace her panel presentations (hopefully), and deal with her nemesis (regrettably).
However, when Detective Lex Archer requests Lila’s academic expertise, she agrees to consult on the case. While her contributions earn high marks from her partner, it could be too late; the killer is already taking aim at the next subject.
As Lila races to keep her colleagues alive, publish or perish takes on new meaning.

At the door, I narrowly avoided a gray creature with tentacles waving every which way. In the lobby, I passed two formidable vampires arguing about coffins. Near the fountain, I glimpsed a trio of witches chanting over the water as if it were a cauldron.
Monster Night was upon us.
The gold banner behind the hotel registration desk welcomed guests to Malice in the Mountains, sponsored by the Horror and Gothic Society. The organization’s first-ever conference was taking place near Stonedale, Colorado, where I was assistant professor of English at the university. Attendees had been invited to dress according to a daily theme and, as a result, the ensembles ranged from mild-mannered professor to full-on cosplayer. I had aimed for the former rather than the latter, choosing simple attire for a meeting with the editor of my first book.
Finding a vacant bench, I settled in to wait. Instrumental fiddle music played overhead, competing with the voices of enthusiastic scholars. It was an odd juxtaposition, but this was clearly no ordinary academic gathering, and the venue was part of the reason. The Tattered Star Ranch drew visitors from around the world to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Originally a working ranch, it had been used as a shooting location for many western films, but after it had begun to fall into disrepair in more recent decades, its ghost-town vibe had made it a popular location for horror movies.
When that era ended, new owners completed a costly expansion to transform the site into a full-service resort. The hotel proper was now U-shaped, with ten floors instead of the original three. Meeting rooms were situated in both wings with guest housing in the center. Along the back, a main street set left behind by one of the westerns had been converted into retail space. The middle of the square had been filled with gardens, benches, and statues. Wisely, the owners had played up the movie aspects—the entire place was dotted with leftover props and sets—and the hotel offered tours that sold out daily. Acres of forest surrounded the site, and a short walk over the wooden bridge spanning a babbling creek led to numerous hiking and horseback riding trails for those seeking additional adventure.
The renovation had yielded a lovely product. From where I sat, deep green pine trees were visible swaying in the wind through the glass walls. The seating was saddle brown and purposefully weathered, as if it had been plucked directly from the range. Rusted iron art pieces and mirrors with whitewashed frames were punctuated with yellow sunflowers. The stream of otherworldly characters passing by, however, would have looked more at home in an abandoned castle. I counted three werewolves, several wraiths, and a zombie.
I wondered if my editor would be in costume. I also wondered what we’d be talking about. Over a year ago, I had signed the contract with the university press and thrown myself into the work of getting the manuscript in order. Even though it was a revision of my doctoral dissertation on mystery writer Isabella Dare, much effort was required to reshape the material and perform additional research. The book was to be published in October, six months from now. The entire process—we had just completed final proofreading—had taken place over email. The only reason I was meeting Meredith Estevan in person was that we happened to be attending the same conference.
Her email invitation had been vaguely worded—she “wanted to go over some things.” The materials I’d received so far had informed me that the press would sell primarily to libraries and academic audiences but would make the book available for general purchase as well. There was no mention of marketing strategies or any kind of events. I typed a reminder into my cell phone to ask her about my responsibilities as an author.
Still gave me a thrill, that word.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
The Subject of Malice is the strongest book in this series to date. After having read it, I must give it a grade of A+.” ~ Carstairs Considers….
“Absolutely addictive.” ~ Kathleen Valenti, Lefty and Agatha nominated author of the Maggie O'Malley Mysteries
“A pure delight from page one. Cynthia Kuhn's Lila Maclean mysteries will cure what ails you. Funny and fantastic.” ~ Becky Clark, author of the Mystery Writer's Mysteries
“An intelligent, witty mystery that will keep you guessing to the very end.” ~ Libby Klein, Author of the Poppy McAllister Mysteries
“Papers, and panels, and murder, oh my! Everyone's favorite professor, Lila Maclean (secret powers include reading and finding bodies), is back and she's on the case (officially)! Lila's latest adventure is full of high drama and high crimes. Such FUN!” ~ Julie Mulhern, USA Today bestselling author of the Country Club Murders

About the Author
Cynthia Kuhn
Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series: The Semester of Our Discontent, The Art of Vanishing, The Spirit in Question, and The Subject of Malice. Honors include an Agatha Award for best first novel and Lefty Award nominations for best humorous mystery. She blogs with Chicks on the Case and is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card and an ebook copy of The Subject of Malice by Cynthia Kuhn.


Featured in this post:

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

"Finding Me" by Kelly Gunderman

Finding Me
by Kelly Gunderman

Finding Me by Kelly Gunderman

Finding Me by Kelly Gunderman is currently on tour with Chapter by Chapter Blog Tours. The tour stops here today for an excerpt and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Can you ever truly love someone who robbed you of everything?
Sixteen-year-old Claire Williams spends most of her days feeling angry and alone. After a car accident took her mother and Claire’s ability to walk, life in a wheelchair is the new normal.
When she’s sent to live with her grandmother, away from school and friends, Claire has a chance for a fresh start. Just when Claire thinks she can handle things, she runs into Todd - the son of the man who caused the car accident.
At first, Claire wants nothing to do with him, but the more time they spend together, the more she hates to admit her feelings. She’s slowly falling in love with Todd.
Now, Claire’s father wants to move and take Claire with him. But she can’t go. Not now when everything is falling into place, and she’s just now finding herself. Claire’s defiant. She won’t leave Greenwood, her new friends, her grandmother, or Todd.
Can Claire find the strength to let her dad go on with his life while leaving her behind to live hers, or will she allow the guilt and shame of surviving the accident pull her back under?

The school looks enormous. The large, red brick building towers over me, its big bay windows with tan trim glaring like eyes. In large, three-dimensional letters outside the main doors is a silver sign that reads, “GREENWOOD HIGH,” and in a smaller font underneath, “Home of the Wildcats!” I sit there, staring at it, for what feels like hours before my grandmother kneels in front of me and cups my chin.
“Claire, are you okay?” she asks in an overly concerned tone.
“Yeah,” I start. “I just ... it’s so much bigger than my last school.”
“It’s a good school. You’ll make lots of friends here.”
I nod. “I know, Grandma. I can take it from here. Thank you for walking me to school.”
“You’re welcome, honey. I’ll be here at the end of the day to walk you home.”
“Grandma, you don’t have to do that,” I protest.
“I want to. I want to hear all about your day.” She kisses me on the head again and wraps me in an embrace. “Do you have your cellphone?” she asks.
I hold up my phone and force a smile.
“Good. Call me if you need anything. I love you, Claire. You go make some friends, and do your best.”
“I love you, Grandma. See you after school.”
As she walks away, I find myself wishing I could go after her and spend the day at home, burying myself under the covers, and just sleeping the day away. I watch her get farther and farther away, before disappearing from view completely. When I could see her, part of me felt like I wasn’t so alone. And then I turn around.
Looking up at the red, brick building that is Greenwood High, I feel intimidated and small. Kids of different ages sprawl out on the front lawn: girls doing their makeup and poring over magazines with the latest celebrity gossip, and boys playing Frisbee or trying to flirt with the girls. Some kids are still in the parking lot, sitting in and on their cars, laughing and talking together. I notice a girl about my age sitting under a large, weeping willow tree, holding a sketch pad on her lap. She’s partially hidden by leaves and branches, but I can see two boys sitting next to her, holding hands. The girl is pretty; she has soft blond hair tied in a ponytail and is wearing a long, pink dress with a white-and-yellow flower pattern.
I pass through the front door of Greenwood High and only catch a few looks. I quickly make my way to the main office. Once inside the building, I’m kind of relieved at how much better things are going than I feared.
The school’s design is pretty typical, with hallways flanked by classrooms on both sides. The lockers at my old school were bright yellow, but here they are a more subdued blue with gray trim—right at home with my desire for plainness and not standing out. No one seems to pay me much attention. Kids are instead wrapped up in conversations about how they spent their summers, who is dating whom, and which girls got the most amazing tans.
As I enter the office, a boy with brown hair—spiked in the back with some falling across his face—looks up from his computer and gives me a smile. His green eyes are inviting, and I find myself feeling more at ease already.
“Hey, there. Can I help you with something?”
My first instinct is to ask him why everything is so ... blue. Blue walls, blue chairs, blue lockers. Are they trying to use color therapy to keep kids calm? Or did the construction crew who built the school have a soft spot for Smurfs?
“Uh, yeah, actually. I’m Claire Williams. I’m new. I’m supposed to pick up my schedule here this morning.”
“Okay, let’s see ... ” He types something into the computer. “Here we are ... Claire Williams. You’re a junior, right?” As he looks up at me, a lock of dark brown hair falls across his face and over his right eye. He shakes his head to move it and gives me a shy smile as he waits for my response.
I nod. “Yep, that’s right.”
He types something else into the computer, and a few seconds later, the printer whirs to life, spitting out a piece of paper. He glances at the paper, nods, and then hands it over the counter.
“I see you have Mr. Danvers for AP English. I have him too. Same period, actually. Sorry about the mess in here. I’ve been helping out for my junior project. It used to be just the seniors that had to do something ‘beneficial to the community,’ but now the juniors are supposed to find something to do too. I thought working in the office would be kind of easy.” He winks and holds out his hand. I shake it. “My name is Todd.”
I smile at him. “Nice to meet you, Todd. Can you tell me a little bit about some of the other teachers I have? Mrs. Lewis for art ... what’s she like? I’ve never really been that great at art, so I’m not sure why I decided to take it. It sounded better than having to sit in the gym and watch all the jocks play basketball for study hall.”
He laughs. “She’s alright. Most of the time she just shows up and puts a movie on. I had her freshman year, but I haven’t taken art since then, so I can’t say what kinds of things she has her students doing these days. I don’t think she takes the job seriously since the school cut a lot of funding for the art department.”
“Why’d they cut the funding?” I ask.
“They needed more money for the football team. New uniforms or something like that. Who knows? Everyone was pissed about it, though. They cut funding from band too, and a lot of the kids tried to start a petition and take it to the school board, but nothing ever came of it.”
I shake my head. I’m not sure what to say, but for some reason, Todd looks familiar to me. “Hey, Todd,” I begin.
“Yeah?” he says, tilting his head and smiling.
“You seem really familiar. Like, I swear I’ve seen you around before. What’s your last name?”
For a moment, Todd says nothing. It’s like a brief cloud passes across his face, darkening those bright green eyes. “My last name is Cash,” he says. “You’ve probably heard about my dad. He got into some trouble with drinking a while back ... he caused a really bad car accident.”
Everything slows down. I can feel my lungs struggling for air as I put two and two together and realize where I’ve heard that name before. Where I’ve seen those green eyes before.

Praise for the Book
“Finding me is my kind of story. When I read the blurb I knew it would be for me. […] This is more than a romance. It’s about Claire finding her place and compassion. This is an interesting read. I would have liked it to have focused more on the romance but the story kept me hooked right to the end.” ~ D.M.

About the Author
Kelly Gunderman
Kelly Gunderman was born a child of the late eighties in small-town Pennsylvania. A bibliophile in her own right, she is hoping to one day surpass the number of pages she has turned with those she has written of her own accord.
Having recently completed her Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Development, Kelly suddenly found herself with a bit more free time than usual, and began her immediately successful foray into blogging and Freelance Writing, which subsequently led to her renewed desire to finally put her ideas and imaginings “on paper”.
Focusing primarily on the Young Adult genre, Kelly has recently finished and her first novel, Finding Me, which was published in July 2019 by Swoon Romance.
She currently resides in her original home town with her husband, their two daughters, and a few cats that constantly challenge the sanity of all with their ill-advised attempts at what can only be assumed to be world domination.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a Swoon Romance ebook of their choice from a previous publication year.

Amazon (Kindle Unlimited)

Featured in this post:

Monday, July 29, 2019

"The Life to Come" by Michelle de Kretser

The Life to Come
by Michelle de Kretser

The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser

It’s that time again - book club! This month, we’re featuring The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser. You can read my review and the opinions of my fellow book clubbers. Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section below.
I’ll be away for August book club but will be back in September with a new book club selection.

Set in Sydney, Paris and Sri Lanka, The Life to Come is a mesmerising novel about the stories we tell and don't tell ourselves as individuals, as societies and as nations. It feels at once firmly classic and exhilaratingly contemporary.
Pippa is a writer who longs for success. Celeste tries to convince herself that her feelings for her married lover are reciprocated. Ash makes strategic use of his childhood in Sri Lanka but blots out the memory of a tragedy from that time. Driven by riveting stories and unforgettable characters, here is a dazzling meditation on intimacy, loneliness and our flawed perception of other people.
Profoundly moving as well as wickedly funny, The Life to Come reveals how the shadows cast by both the past and the future can transform, distort and undo the present. This extraordinary novel by Miles Franklin-winning author Michelle de Kretser will strike to your soul.

The house by the river belonged to an old man whose relationship to George Meshaw was complicated but easily covered by ‘cousin’. He had lived there alone, with a painting that was probably a Bonnard. Now he was in a nursing home, following a stroke, and George’s mother had taken charge of the painting. It was her idea that George should live in the house until it was clear whether or not their cousin was coming home. She had flown up to Sydney for the day, and George met her for a late lunch. George’s mother wore a dark Melbourne dress and asked the waiter for ‘Really cold water’, between remarking on the humidity and the jacarandas—you would never guess that she had lived in Sydney for the first thirty-one years of her life. She bent her head over her handbag, and George found himself looking at a scene from childhood. His mother was on the phone, with the orange wall in the living room behind her. As he watched her, she bent forward from the waist, still holding the receiver. Her hair stood out around her head: George saw a dark-centred golden flower. He couldn’t have been more than six but he understood that his mother was trying to block out the noise around her—he folded like that, too, protecting a book or a toy when ‘Dinner!’ was called—and that this was difficult because the room was full of the loud jazz his father liked to play.
Over the years, George’s mother’s hair had been various colours and lengths, and now it was a soft yellow sunburst again, still with that central dark star. She produced a supermarket receipt from her bag and read from the back of it: ‘Hair Apparent. Do or Dye.’
‘The Head Gardener,’ replied George. ‘Moody Hair.’
They were in the habit of noting down the names of hairdressing salons for each other. His mother said, ‘Also, I saw this in an airport shop: “Stainless steel is immune to rust, discoloration and corrosion. This makes it ideal for men’s jewellery.”’
George and his mother had the same high laugh—hee hee hee—and otherwise didn’t resemble each other at all. The Bonnard was beside her, done up in cardboard and propped on a chair. When George asked what it was like, his mother said, ‘A naked woman and wallpaper. He needed an excuse to paint light.’
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
Winner of the 2018 Miles Franklin Award
Shortlisted for the 2018 Stella Award
Winner of the 2019 NSW Premier's Literary Awards Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
“I so much admire Michelle de Kretser's formidable technique - her characters feel alive, and she can create a sweeping narrative which encompasses years, and yet still retain the sharp, almost hallucinatory detail.” ~ Hilary Mantel
“Michelle de Kretser knows how to construct a gripping story. She writes quickly and lightly of wonderful and terrible things ... A master storyteller.” ~ A.S. Byatt
“... one of those rare writers whose work balances substance with style. Her writing is very witty, but it also goes deep, informed at every point by a benign and far-reaching intelligence.” ~ Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald
“... a dazzlingly accomplished author who commands all the strokes. Her repertoire stretches from a hallucinatory sense of place to a mastery of suspense, sophisticated verbal artistry and a formidable skill in navigating those twisty paths where history and psychology entwine.” ~ Boyd Tonkin, Independent
“For a novel concerned with dislocation, there's a lot of grounding humor in The Life to Come. Most of it comes at the expense of Pippa and her ilk, but de Kretser's observations are so spot on, you'll forgive her even as you cringe.” ~ New York Times Book Review

Book Clubbers’ Thoughts
Being winter here, most of our book clubbers are off seeking warmer climes. This month, only Jan, Kerrie, and I were present.
Jan: “I got about a third of the way through. I found it wordy, pretentious, and boring. It’s almost as if the author did a writing course and tried to include everything she learned into the book.”
Kerrie: “I had read it before and got it confused with one of her other books, which I did enjoy. I tried to read it again but couldn’t. I did like her descriptions, especially of Glebe – which I am familiar with. Her image of frangipanis on the footpaths is very accurate. I think the title refers to living for the future and not the present, that is, concentrating too much on what you want in the future that you forget to enjoy the now.”
Consensus: Give this one a miss.

Image created using Mockup Shots. Get started for FREE here.

My Review
I bought this book from a bookstore.

By Lynda Dickson
The Life to Come is less a novel and more a collection of five short stories that intertwine and overlap, featuring appearances or mentions of characters met elsewhere, all linked by the central character Pippa.
“The Fictive Self”, set in Sydney, tells the story of George, an aspiring author. He meets Pippa in university. “Pippa had been in his tutorial on ‘The Fictive Self’: a Pass student whose effortful work George had pitied enough to bump up to a Credit at the last moment.” We find out more about the writing careers of both George and Pippa as the book progresses.
“The Ashfield Tamil”, also set in Sydney, centers on Cassie, who is “writing a thesis on Australian expatriate novelists”, and her Sri Lankan born boyfriend Ash. Cassie went to school with Pippa, and they are still in touch.
“The Museum of Romantic Life”, set in Paris, introduces us to Celeste, a translator who meets Pippa at an exhibition at the Australian Embassy during the period when Pippa starts writing a new novel set in Paris.
In “Pippa Passes”, we finally get the story from Pippa’s point of view.
This is as far as I got (67% of the way in) when Book Club met. I really wanted to like this book but, if I hadn’t been reading it for Book Club, I would have given up much earlier. Pippa, who is the linking character, is an acquired taste, a do-gooder who butts into everyone’s business. There are numerous other characters, each with no redeeming features. I didn’t care what happened to any of them, and nothing happens anyway, which makes it hard to continue reading. In addition, the author has the annoying tendency of introducing characters and only naming them later, making the narrative hard to follow. She also tries too hard to be “literary” and, as a result, suffers from the same maladies she makes fun of:
“… the meaning of each word was clear and the meaning of sentences baffled. Insignificant yet crucial words like ‘however’ and ‘which’—words whose meaning was surely beyond dispute—had been deployed in ways that made no sense.”
“George detected a borrowing: Pippa had come across the word somewhere and been impressed.”
That being said, there are some great descriptive passages, with the author having a particular fondness of anthropomorphizing the scenery:
“Brick bungalows cowered at the base of the cliff and skulked on the ridge above—it seemed an affront for which they would all be punished.”
She also makes astute observations on
Australian literature: “After some difficulty, a professor who would admit to having once read an Australian novel was found.”),
the media: “… the national broadcaster—a viper’s nest of socialists, tree-huggers and ugly, barren females—had seized on the survey, exhuming one of its bleeding-heart ideologues to moan about funding cuts to education.”,
politics: “Education being a trivial portfolio, the minister, a golden boy, had also been entrusted with Immigration.”,
race: “He was a Jaffna Tamil, he said. ‘But here no one knows who we are. What to do?’ Cassie was familiar with this kind of thing. Her grandmother had grown up in Vienna, and laments about Australian ignorance circulated readily with the torte.”,
character: “People often remarked that Pippa and Cassie were like sisters. That was quite true in the sense that each girl kept track of, rejected and coveted whatever belonged to the other.”,
Australians: “Australians are hard-working and very successful. They are suspicious of their success and resent it. They are winners who prefer to see themselves as victims. Their national hero, Ned Kelly, was a violent criminal—they take this as proof of their egalitarianism. They worship money, of course.”,
and the passage of time (these last quotes linking back to the book’s title):
“What was coming was a life in which his father was a stranger.”
“… when Ash thought of Australia it seemed to belong less to his past than to a time to come, luminous and open-ended.”
“Australians are ashamed of the past. You have no choice but to look forward.”
“Pippa, looking forward, saw a life that had drained away in the service of novels no one wanted to read.”
Warnings: coarse language, sexual references.

Some of My Favorite Lines
“George looked on cooking as time stolen from books.”
“George’s own novel sang inside him. He was taking apart everything he knew and putting it back together differently in ruled A4 notebooks.”
“The sun rose over the misty park: an autumn sun, a flat red disc that had strayed from a Japanese print.”
“I wish I could be a successful writer because then I wouldn’t have to want to be a successful writer.”
“Silently Céleste recited words that meant Australia: sport, veranda, up yourself, teenagers with braces, little battler, the peppercorn tree, provincial touchiness, provincial kindness, dirty wog. Each one was a scene dense with detail, lit in a distinctive way.”

About the Author
Michelle de Kretser was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Her family emigrated to Australia when she was a teenager, and she was educated in Melbourne and Paris. She is the author of four previous novels - including the Miles Franklin Award-winning Questions of Travel and the Man Booker Prize-longlisted The Lost Dog - and a novella, Springtime. De Kretser now lives in Sydney with her partner, the poet and translator, Chris Andrews. She is an Honorary Associate of the English Department at the University of Sydney.


Featured in this post: