Guest Post by Author C.L. Wilson on Putting the Character in Characters + Giveaway

Today, I’d like to welcome C.L. Wilson, who recent published The Winter King (reviewed here).

Putting the Character in Characters
by C.L. Wilson

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One of the best things about writing fantasy romance (besides the worldbuilding, which I adore) is the freedom you have to create wildly unique and interesting characters to populate your world. In fiction—especially fantasy fiction—larger-than-life qualities often make for the most interesting characters.

Unbound by conventional mores, laws, or even realities, fantasy characters can be literally larger than life: immortal, magical, world-endingly dangerous, you name it. It’s part of what makes reading such a thrill ride. You can enjoy the danger from the safety of your armchair, and you can explore all manner of provocative “what if” scenarios without having your suspension of disbelief destroyed.

For example, in one of my absolute favorite recent reads, Heart of Obsidian, phenomenally talented Nalini Singh created a character (Kaleb Krychek) who is a telekinetic so powerful, he can literally rip the world apart, and so tortured he will use that power without remorse if anything happens to the one and only person he cares about. He is a self-admitted sociopath, devoid of empathy and teetering on the brink of insanity, who has killed people before, driven others insane, and will “line the street with bodies” to protect his one love. In real life, someone like Kaleb would send most women running the other way, screaming in terror (and rightfully so), yet through the course of the novel, Nalini not only helps her readers and heroine understand him, she makes us fall irrevocably and eternally in love with him. Yes, unashamedly, I ♥ Kaleb Krychek.

GMC - Goals, Motivation, & Conflict by Debra DixonSo how do you go about building characters that will grip a reader’s attention and rouse their emotions? For me, it all starts with the basic building blocks of fiction: Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Or, more simply put, what does this character want, why does s/he want it, and why can’t s/he have it? (There’s a fabulous book on Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon called, wait for it, GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict, which I highly recommend to all writers.) Understanding both the external (material/worldly) and internal (emotional) GMC of my characters is the point from which I begin developing every character I write (walk-ons excluded, of course). Because in order to answer the question of GMC, you have to understand where you character comes from, what they value most, what their greatest strengths and weaknesses are, and what is the source of their pain (ie, you need to understand and build their backstory).

We are all creatures of both nurture and nature. We are born with certain gifts, physical qualities, aptitudes, temperaments, etc. But on an emotional level, who we become is heavily influenced by nurture: the environment we are raised in, the friendships we form, the culture we grow up in, the battles we win and lose, etc. It’s that emotional past (that baggage) as well as natural abilities that combine to make interesting, complex people in real life and fascinating, truly compelling characters on the pages of a book.

I always, when fleshing out a character, look for sources of conflict that can arise from their abilities, their past experiences, their current desires and fears.

Some of the questions I ask when fleshing out a character:

    • What is the person’s greatest strength? What does that person do best, or what is the strongest element of their character. Often, that greatest strength is also the characters greatest weakness. For instance, a fantasy character’s greatest strength might be empathy—the ability to sense the feelings of others, so you can tell when someone is lying, afraid, nervous, etc. But then the character’s greatest weakness might be that they are physically defenseless, because any pain they deal another doubles back on them. Or the person with ESP who can read thoughts—a great strength—who has no friends because no one wants their real thoughts laid bare to another person.
    • What is the person’s greatest weakness? (for ideas, see above) Yes, every character must have a weakness, and it must be a good one. Even Superman has his Kryptonite. An invincible character does not make for fascinating reading. Now, nearly invincible on the other hand…that can be lots of fun to read and write about.
    • What does this person love/value most? What will s/he do to get it/protect it/keep it? (This often speaks to either Goal and/or Motivation in a story)
    • What is this person’s greatest source of pain? What is their Wound (capitalization intended)? The deep emotional scar or longing. The pain this person doesn’t want to face again (and, of course, the story will force the character to face that pain). This is the core emotional Conflict (the C of GMC) of the story, and it’s closely linked to the transformation the character will need to undergo, the growth s/he’ll need to make in order to triumph in the end.

Finally, in fiction, more can often be better. More power, more angst, more pain, more at stake, more, more, more. Genre fiction readers don’t read for blah, everyday characters (unless said character is caught up in some extremely NOT-everyday events, and has to rise to the occasion to deal with it). We all get up, put our clothes on, go to work, raise our families, rinse, repeat. We might have fights at the office, get stuck in traffic, glare at the rude person who jumps in front of little old ladies in the grocery store line, but lives like that don’t make for page-turning fiction.

I’m not saying your character should be the most gifted, the most beautiful, the most everything. I would hate that character, and such a character would probably destroy my suspension of disbelief in a story. But it is the unique, fantastic, even extreme qualities of fictional characters and their situations that grab our interest on the page.

And it is those larger-than-life qualities that make for compelling characters and page-turning novels.

CL WilsonAbout C. L. Wilson
 
Praised for exceptional worldbuilding and lyric prose, C.L. Wilson’s unique blend of action, romance, and richly-imagined fantasy have endeared her books romance and fantasy readers alike. Her critically acclaimed novels have regularly appeared on bestseller lists including the USA Today, the New York Times, and Publisher’s Weekly.

When not torturing her characters mercilessly, C.L. enjoys reading, questing through the wilds of the latest Elder Scrolls game and dreaming of a world where Bluebell’s Nutty Chocolate ice cream is a fat burning food.

Her newest novel, The Winter King, is available anywhere books are sold. She can be found online at www.clwilson.com.

~~~~~~TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

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C.L. is giving away copy of The Winter King, complete with a gorgeous white rose snow globe pendant reminiscent of the book!

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Review: The Winter King by C.L. Wilson

winter king by cl wilsonFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: fantasy romance
Length: 613 pages
Publisher: Avon
Date Released: July 29, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

After three long years of war, starkly handsome Wynter Atrialan will have his vengeance on Summerlea’s king by taking one of the man’s beautiful, beloved daughters as his bride. But though peace is finally at hand, Wynter’s battle with the Ice Heart, the dread power he embraced to avenge his brother’s death, rages on.

Khamsin Coruscate, Princess of Summerlea and summoner of Storms, has spent her life exiled to the shadows of her father’s palace. Reviled by her father, marriage to Wintercraig’s icy king was supposed to be a terrible punishment, but instead offers Kham her first taste of freedom—and her first taste of overwhelming passion.

As fierce, indomitable Wynter weathers even Khamsin’s wildest storms, surprising her with a tenderness she never expected, Kham wants more than Wynter’s passion—she yearns for his love. But the power of the Ice Heart is growing, dangerous forces are gathering, and a devastating betrayal puts Khamsin and Wynter to the ultimate test.

My Review:

My friends Has and Lou over at The Book Pushers called The Winter King an “old skool” fantasy romance. After having devoured The Winter King, all 600 pages of it, in less than two days, I’d pretty much agree.

The Winter King reminds me a lot of the big, meaty fantasy romance sagas like Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince series. There’s an epic sweep of magic and hot juicy romance (sometimes a bit literally) set in a world of endlessly warring kingdoms and opposing gods.

It makes for a sprawling story so big you can absolutely wallow in it. In a completely good way. When done well, this kind of storytelling makes for a great big “YUM”, and The Winter King is definitely done well.

We start out with what appears to be one misguided young man’s quest for the legendary sword of his ancestors–up until he makes off with the neighbor king’s fiance and kills the king’s brother as part of his escape plan. Then he disappears from sight for three years, while the aforementioned king sets out to reduce the young man’s rival kingdom to splinters.

And that’s where the real story begins.

Falcon was the Prince of Summerlea, and he stole the King of Winter Craig’s fiancee and a magical artifact that is supposed to point out the location of legendary King Roland’s sword, Blazing.

Wynter, the King of Winter Craig embraces the terrible side of his country’s heritage in order to lay waste to the kingdom that sent Falcon. Three years later he’s conquered the last stronghold, and is prepared to claim his prize.

Wynter intends to injure the King of Summerlea by demanding one of his three beloved daughters as his wife. Instead, Verdan Summerlea gets the upper hand by foisting his definitely unbeloved fourth daughter on the enemy he hates.

He hates his daughter Khamsin enough to beat her very nearly to death in order to get her to participate in this charade. It’s not until half-way through the beating that Kham figures out that the enemy king will give her a better chance of survival than staying at home.

None of the Summerlanders have any clue that giving Kham to Wynter is also his best chance at survival. But there is so much distrust between the two countries, and so much deception involved in all of Kham and Wynter’s initial encounters, that it takes a lot of time, and quite a bit of other people’s blood, before they manage half a rapprochement.

There are too many people invested in keeping them apart. Some with honest mistrust, and many full of deliberate treachery.

Even though they each have nowhere else to turn, it takes despicable betrayal from both sides of their conflict to finally push them toward each other. And it might be too late, not just for Kham and Wynter, but for the entire world.

Escape Rating A-: I have some quibbles, but after absolutely gobbling the story up in a relatively short time, I have to say I had a ball reading it.

Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to shake some sense into both the hero and heroine. Frequently.

The tension in the romance was based on several huge misunderstandammits, a trope I generally hate. However, Kham and Wynter were not stuck in a fake conflict that could have been resolved with a simple conversation. They frequently misunderstood each other because their relationship begins as a forced marriage of enemies. Their countries have been at war for three years. Their people don’t trust each other for very good reasons. It’s difficult to clear the air when you aren’t ready to trust the other person.

That being said, Kham is very young and has lived a life of complete isolation. She’s never had to behave in the court setting she should have, and she hasn’t learned the lessons one usually does about guarding your presentation and the way that people behave when they are being spiteful or simply getting along. She’s observed her father’s court in secret, but was never allowed to participate, and for reasons that weren’t her fault. Figuring out how to behave in the real world, and becoming Queen of people who hate and distrust her, was being thrown into the deep end of the pool. She learns, but she flails about a lot and suffers from some self-indulgent self-pity at points early on. She gets better.

Wynter has more life experience, and more real-life experience than Kham does. Admittedly, a lot of it has been horrible, and he’s been forced to take on responsibility early and fast. His life has not been easy. His last fiance betrayed him, so trusting the daughter of his enemy is beyond difficult. At the same time, he seems to not understand that his treatment of Kham will be mirrored by his entire court. Even though he doesn’t trust her, he seems to have totally missed the point that his court needs to respect her as Queen and the potential mother of the next ruler.

One side note, I wish the King of Winter Craig had not been named “Wynter”. It felt just a shade over the top. Totally my 2 cents and YMMV.

The romance between Kham and Wynter is almost too hot to read on a summer night, but in a way that makes sense in their relationship. This is a dynastic marriage, there has to be a child. So the romance is a terrific sex-into-love story. The sparks they strike off of each other in their clash of wills translates directly into steam.

Without going into spoiler territory, I will say that the ending throws a lot of tropes onto their heads. And it’s marvelous.

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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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Review: The Maharani’s Pearls by Charles Todd

maharanis pearls by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford Mysteries
Length: 96 pages
Publisher: Witness Impulse
Date Released: July 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Living with her family in India, young Bess Crawford’s curiosity about this exotic country sometimes leads her into trouble.

One day she slips away from the cantonment to visit the famous seer in a nearby village. Before this woman can finish telling her fortune, Bess is summoned back for an afternoon tea with the Maharani, a close friend of her parents’. The seer’s last words are a warning about forthcoming danger that Bess takes as the usual patter. But this visit by the Maharani has ominous overtones that mark it as more than a social call. Her husband has political enemies, and she has come to ask Bess’s father, Major Crawford, for help.

As the Maharani is leaving, Bess notices that there is something amiss with the royal entourage. Major Crawford must set out after them—but will he be in time?

And what will happen to Bess, and the household left behind, when a vicious assassin circles back to take hostages?

Here is an extraordinary glimpse into the childhood of the Bess Crawford we know from her service in the Great War.

My Review:

This story is a very short episode in the life of World War I Nurse Bess Crawford long before she became a nurse or volunteered to serve in the Army’s Nursing Corps.

On the other hand, even as a ten-year-old, it’s still very obvious that Bess has always been very much herself; adventurous, intelligent, headstrong in pursuit of what she believes is the right thing, brave and fairly unflappable.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles ToddDuring the main sequence of the stories that chronicle her wartime career (start with A Duty to the Dead) Bess exhibits the same traits as an adult that show up in this brief story from her childhood.

Bess’ often remembers her childhood in India, both for the relative freedom she enjoyed and for the cosmopolitan outlook that growing up slightly outside the strictures of life back in England. She has more experience of more different types and backgrounds of people than most women her age. She’s also much more independent than usual for the era, because she has that broader experience.

In A Question of Honor (reviewed here) we see some of Bess’ memories of life in the Raj, and also discover the fate of some of the children whose A Question of Honor by Bess Crawfordparents sent them back home while they continued their service. Bess discovers just how much she has to be grateful for, that her parents, a high-ranking officer and his wife, kept her with them.

But in her childhood, Bess was already an intrepid explorer and someone who only obeyed the rules when it suited her. In the case of the Maharani’s pearls, Bess’ desire to push at the boundaries results in her being in the right place at the right time to save a life, and perhaps help maintain the British presence in India on a relatively peaceful basis.

Escape Rating B+: The Maharani’s Pearls is a very short story. While I certainly enjoyed the glimpse of Bess as a child, the story also introduced a few more mysteries about the people around her.

Her father’s willingness to listen to her story and take action on information that some might have claimed was a child’s imagining explained a lot about the way she was raised and how much she feels she needs to take action when things go wrong.

Child Bess made a ton of references to her father’s batman, Simon Brandon, and his mysterious origins. Simon, his service, his career and his place in her family’s life has been extremely mysterious from the very first book. It was to be hoped that this earlier glimpse of him might clear up some of the mysteries. Instead, it just makes his past even murkier.

unwilling accomplice by charles toddStill I can’t wait for the next book in the main series, An Unwilling Accomplice. This entire series does well at both evoking the era and providing a page-turning mystery.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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Review: The Virtues of Oxygen by Susan Schoenberger + Giveaway

The Virtues of Oxygen by Susan SchoenbergerFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Women’s fiction
Length: 243 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Date Released: July 22, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Holly is a young widow with two kids living in a ramshackle house in the same small town where she grew up wealthy. Now barely able to make ends meet editing the town’s struggling newspaper, she manages to stay afloat with help from her family. Then her mother suffers a stroke, and Holly’s world begins to completely fall apart.

Vivian has lived an extraordinary life, despite the fact that she has been confined to an iron lung since contracting polio as a child. Her condition means she requires constant monitoring, and the close-knit community joins together to give her care and help keep her alive. As their town buckles under the weight of the Great Recession, Holly and Vivian, two very different women both touched by pain, forge an unlikely alliance that may just offer each an unexpected salvation.

My Review:

The Virtues of Oxygen is the story of two women (and a town) who are all having difficulty with something that is critical to survival.

It’s not that Holly started out life somewhere in the upper-middle class and feels deprived because her standard of living has steadily fallen throughout her adult life–it’s that she’s 42, widowed young, with two sons and a job in a dying industry (journalism) in a small town that has been losing economic ground for decades.

She works hard and she does her best, but she’s going to lose her house. And her little weekly newspaper is about to fold, taking her job with it.

Then her mother has a severe stroke and she and her siblings have to face even more bitter truths. Their mother survived, but she will never get better. The woman they knew is gone.

And everything that their parents saved in their life together will have to go to taking care of the body that no longer houses their mother.

Holly says that money is like oxygen, and she just doesn’t have enough. but Holly’s friend Vivian really doesn’t have enough actual oxygen. Ever.

230px-Iron_lung_CDCVivian is 65, and she contracted polio when she was 6–three years before the Salk vaccine. For the past 59 years, Vivian has lived her entire life in an iron lung. She can’t breathe without it’s constant assistance.

She has managed to make a life for herself. Computers and the internet opened up a vast array of outside contacts for her. She invested her money wisely, (she’s very good at it) and has mostly done ok by financial standards.

But she is tired of everything. As her series of podcasts reveals, she has lived her life as best as she could, but she has reached enough. The problem is that someone is, of necessity, always taking care of her, and ensuring that her life-giving machines never lose power.

When Holly finally runs out of choices, Vivian takes her and her boys into her home. Holly’s family gives Vivian one last chance to experience life in a busy and happy household. Holly’s family gives her purpose.

They also give her one last chance to pass the benefits of her life, hopefully without the disadvantages, to a friend she cares for, and the town that has cared for her.

Escape Rating B+: The Virtues of Oxygen is a story that builds slowly, but involves the reader with all the aspects of both of its protagonists lives. This is not a story where dramatic action would be appropriate, instead it weaves its spell by deepening the reader’s understanding of the difficulties faced by all the characters.

Vivian is simply an awesome character. From the first of her “unaired podcasts” Vivian’s personality roars off the page. Her experience is so much broader than the horizons of her iron-lung bound life might have been. For someone who starts out extraordinarily unlucky, she makes the absolute most of what she has. Until she exhausts herself in a way that is as understandable as possible in circumstances that none of us can compare to.

Vivian has managed to make herself the personal and economic center of little Bertram Corners, binding the town together in caring for her in a way that helps the town as much as it assists her. It’s obvious from the story that it took Vivian a while, but she finally figured out how to give back to her caregivers and her community in a really big way.

Holly’s life keeps going from bad to worse, and she keeps on putting one foot in front of the other, but she’s just not able to dig out of the hole she’s in. Because she doesn’t have any reserves, she can’t manage to help herself make money. Everything that comes in is eaten up by daily life; the mortgage, utilities, keeping both sons clothed and fed, trying to keep their lives from being a complete drag as the house gets more dilapidated.

Her life has never recovered from the absurdly young death of her husband. No one expects to die in their early 30’s, with so much of their promise unfulfilled.

The town is slowly dying, and into this economic bust Vivian brings a storefront cash-for-gold store. The presence of the store, and it’s city-wise manager Racine brings a boost to the downtown area, and possibly even a boost to Holly’s life. She just can’t figure out what his game is or whether he has one.

For a character who changes so much from the beginning of the story to the end, we don’t see as much of Racine’s perspective as might have been helpful. The Virtues of Oxygen is totally Vivian’s and Holly’s stories.

~~~~~~GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

Susan is graciously giving away a paperback copy of The Virtues of Oxygen to one lucky U.S commenter:

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TLC

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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Review: Invisible City by Julia Dahl

invisible city by julia dahlFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback, audiobook
Genre: mystery
Series: Rebekah Roberts, #1
Length: 305 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Date Released: May 6, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Just months after Rebekah Roberts was born, her mother, an Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, abandoned her Christian boyfriend and newborn baby to return to her religion. Neither Rebekah nor her father have heard from her since. Now a recent college graduate, Rebekah has moved to New York City to follow her dream of becoming a big-city reporter. But she’s also drawn to the idea of being closer to her mother, who might still be living in the Hasidic community in Brooklyn.

Then Rebekah is called to cover the story of a murdered Hasidic woman. Rebekah’s shocked to learn that, because of the NYPD’s habit of kowtowing to the powerful ultra-Orthodox community, not only will the woman be buried without an autopsy, her killer may get away with murder. Rebekah can’t let the story end there. But getting to the truth won’t be easy—even as she immerses herself in the cloistered world where her mother grew up, it’s clear that she’s not welcome, and everyone she meets has a secret to keep from an outsider.

My Review:

Invisible City is the story of a search for identity wrapped in a murder mystery and a police cover-up. Several cover-ups. But no matter how convoluted the plot gets, what we’re left with at the end is the same conclusion that the protagonist arrives at: this investigation provided Rebekah Roberts with the excuse she needed to help her find her mother.

Both find as in locate, and find as in understand. Rebekah is aware, at least in fits and starts, that her mother is the real issue, but she loses herself in solving the case, sometimes deliberately so.

It is a fascinating case, after all. A woman is found dead in a construction crane. She’s naked and her head has been shaved. There is no reasonable way that this is not a very questionable death. But no questions are asked. The woman is a member of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in the Borough Park neighborhood of New York City, and the community has its own rules about investigating crime among their members, and more than enough political clout with the city to be permitted to go their own way.

The body is whisked away, and not by the coroner. Rebekah Roberts, a low-paid stringer for the tabloid New York Tribune, sees it all and can’t figure out why there isn’t going to be an autopsy. But she’s fascinated, because the dead woman is a member of the same community that Rebekah’s mother briefly escaped from, and then went back to, leaving 6-month old Rebekah in the custody of her Christian father in Florida.

But Rebekah is technically Jewish, and everyone in Borough Park seems to see her that way, especially NYPD detective Saul Katz, who serves as the police liaison to the community. Saul knew her mother; and has kept in touch with her father. He becomes her entrée into the closed community to which she might have belonged, if life had been very different.

Saul has his own reasons for wanting to make sure that this case is fully investigated. He makes sure she gets enough information to keep her newspaper interested. “Crane Lady” generates plenty of column inches in the Trib while their covert investigation continues.

At first, it looks like an investigation into the rich and powerful. It becomes a voyage of discovery, as Rebekah peeks into a community that polices and especially cares for its own, but isn’t readily able to admit outsiders when situations go beyond their skill at healing.

Rebekah’s lost heritage, at first her entrée into this closed world, almost becomes her undoing.

Escape Rating A-: In any mystery, it’s usually the secrets that people keep from the world that finally lead to their guilt. In this case, there are more secrets than the usual. The entire ultra-Orthodox community operates as one giant secret.

A part of the narrative about the community, the way that they care for each other and eschew the modern world as much as possible, reminds the reader a bit of how us “English” view the Amish, at least in popular fiction.

The difference being that Amish communities tend to be rural or small-town (Lancaster, PA is the popular example) but this ultra-Orthodox community is set in the heart of New York City, yet is still permitted to operate as if it were on an island of its own. Living according to their own laws is bound to cause friction with the wider community, unless there is a powerful incentive to leave them alone.

Politics, as they say, makes very strange bedfellows.

Rebekah is outwardly looking for a killer, but really searching for her mother, Aviva. Aviva started questioning the Hasidic way of life, and temporarily flirted with joining the greater world. A flirtation that resulted in Rebekah.

Rebekah’s search for identity makes a compelling underpinning to this mystery. Her delving into the way that the community works (and doesn’t work) provide a fascinating glimpse into this “city within a city”.

Rebekah is ultimately a very flawed heroine, someone who is not merely very young, but in completely over her head, while so engrossed in the thrill of the chase that she doesn’t see the dangers around her.

I’ll be very curious to see if the author can extend Rebekah’s story into more cases.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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Review: Maxwell Street Blues by Marc Krulewitch + Giveaway

maxwell street blues by marc krulewitchFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Mystery
Series: Jules Landau, #1
Length: 245 pages
Publisher: Alibi
Date Released: August 5, 2014
Purchasing Info: Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Chicago runs in Jules Landau’s veins. So does the blood of crooks. Now Jules is going legit as a private eye, stalking bail jumpers and cheating spouses—until he gets his first big case. Unfortunately, the client is his ex-con father, and the job is finding the killer of a man whom Jules loved like family. Why did someone put two bullets in the head of gentle bookkeeper Charles Snook? Jules is determined to find out, even if the search takes him to perilous places he never wanted to go.

Snooky, as he was affectionately known, had a knack for turning dirty dollars clean, with clients ranging from humble shop owners to sharp-dressed mobsters. As Jules retraces Snooky’s last days, he crosses paths with a way-too-eager detective, a gorgeous and perplexing tattoo artist, a silver-haired university administrator with a kinky side, and a crusading journalist. Exposing one dirty secret after another, the PI is on a dangerous learning curve. And, at the top of that curve, a killer readies to strike again.

My Review:

I lived in Chicago for quite a chunk of my adult life, so when I saw the description for Maxwell Street Blues, I just had to see if the town painted in the book matched my memories.

The Maxwell Street area, and all the streets and neighborhoods mentioned in the book really do exist. And while the names have been altered to protect the innocent, or possibly the guilty, there really is a university in and around what used to be the Maxwell Street Market area.

I’ve even been there. It’s the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and they even have a nearby residential development, just like in the book.

I’m sure it didn’t happen quite like the author describes. But then, we are talking about Chicago, so it may not surprise readers to learn that the true-life events bear a startling resemblance to the history outlined in the story.

Maxwell Street is where Chicago first sang the Blues. In this story, it’s also the location where “the city that works” is working out a construction deal mostly under the table between a large public university, a well-connected construction company and some more-or-less dirty cops.

Someone was bound to end up dead. After all, as Sean Connery’s character famously put it in the movie The Untouchables, “that’s the Chicago way.”

The body belongs to Charles Snook, a CPA with a lucrative sideline in laundering money for cops, aldermen, university chancellors and anyone else who had the right connections. Snooky was damn good at his job. Until his body was found, and then everyone assumed that he’d betrayed his clients’ trust or pissed off somebody important.

His childhood friend Jules Landau can’t let it alone. Jules is a private investigator barely getting by, but his family has generations-long connections in the underworld that seems to have been his friend’s downfall.

Jules can’t stop himself from searching for the truth about his friend’s death, in spite of having no experience whatsoever in investigating murders. Particularly a murder that everyone wants to bury–along with Snooky, and possibly Jules.

Everyone says that Snooky was a terrific accountant who kept his mouth shut and did a great job laundering everyone’s dirty money. The mobs didn’t want him dead, because dead accountants just aren’t any good.

Jules, like good detectives everywhere, follows the money. Money that leads from a crazy tattoo artist to the highest offices of a major university, scooping up dirty cops and aldermen along the way.

Nobody seems to have really wanted Snooky dead. But once he pokes his nose into the case, the line of people who want Jules dead grows by leaps and bounds.

Also by brass knuckles and baseball bats.

Escape Rating B: The story has a solid Chicago flavor, almost as tasty as a Chicago Hot Dog (and yes, that’s a thing, with celery salt). While I’m certain you don’t need to have lived in Chicago to enjoy this story, that I knew all the places gave it an extra layer of nostalgia for me. It feels right.

The mystery is one of dogged persistence. Although it starts out being about Snooky’s murder, it veers quickly into the murky waters of the deal to destroy the old Maxwell Street Market neighborhood. Every person with even the tiniest bit of decision-making power seems to have taken a slice of pork out of that barrel.

Even more damning, the cops investigating the murder have it in for each other, and both of them were on the take in multiple ways. No one involved with the Maxwell Street development/destruction seems to have been clean.

Jules is in way over his head. A head that keeps getting punched and beaten as he pursues the case. All of his involvements and attempts at a solution just get him another beating. Literally. And yet, he keeps on.

There’s a sense that he wants to right all the wrongs that he finds, until he is beaten down to the realization that one person can’t fix everything that’s wrong with the way business is done in Chicago.

The ending of the case is murkier than the Chicago River. But the conclusion of Jules’ story was surprisingly satisfying.

~~~~~~TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

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TLC

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.
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The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-27-14

Sunday Post

This almost turned out to be “city” week at Reading Reality. Monday’s Maxwell Street Blues is very Chicago, and Invisible City takes place in a part of New York City that is, well, invisible. Until, of course, it isn’t.

I’m still suffering from “Con hangover” after Detcon. We had an awesome time and I want to go back. And I’m bummed that we couldn’t manage LonCon this month. The Hugo voting is this week, and I’m starting to look forward to next year in Spokane. Which doesn’t quite sound right, but it’s a WorldCon, so it’s all good.

Back-to-You-Blog-TourCurrent Giveaways:

Back to You by Jessica Scott (paperback)

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Amazon Gift Card in the Summer Reads Giveaway Hop is Michelle B.
The winner of Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann is Jo C.
The winner of Until We Touch by Susan Mallery is Blair S.

truly by ruthie knoxBlog Recap:

C+ Review: The Forever Man by Pierre Ouellette + Giveaway
A+ Review: Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
A+ Review: Truly by Ruthie Knox
B Guest Review: Star Trek: The Original Series: The More Things Change by Scott Pearson
Interview with Author Jessica Scott + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (98)

maxwell street blues by marc krulewitchComing Next Week:

Maxwell Street Blues by Marc Krulewitch (blog tour review + giveaway)
Invisible City by Julia Dahl (review)
The Virtues of Oxygen by Susan Schoenberger (blog tour review + giveaway)
The Maharani’s Pearls by Charles Todd (review)
The Winter King by C.L. Wilson (blog tour review + giveaway)

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