Sleuth on Safari

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author A.R. Kennedy and her cozy mystery novel, Sleuth on Safari.

Author’s description:

Naomi and her estranged sister are off on a trip of a lifetime—an African safari, a bucket list trip for Naomi on which she got a last-minute deal. Naomi thinks traveling with her sister will be the worst part of her African safari until she finds one of their fellow travelers, the unlikable Dr. Higgins, dead. She gets more adventure than she bargained for when she starts investigating what she thinks is murder but the luxury lodge says was a tragic accident. She only has a few vacation days, and a few game drives, to find the killer.

My Review:

In, Sleuth on Safari A.R. Kennedy has written a fun and easy-to-read amateur sleuth novel that will have you turning the pages to cheer on its rookie crime solver, all while enjoying the excitement of a safari.

I’ve been lucky enough to go on a trip similar to the one in the book* (without the murder, of course) and I can assure you Kennedy does a fine job of capturing the wild beauty of nature in sub-Sahara Africa as well as some of the less story-book aspects of such a trip.

She does it while presenting a likable sleuth, an adequately complex cast of suspects, and a satisfying ending.

My most significant complaints all occurred early on, when the two sisters in questions seemed more like they were squabbling preteens, not young women in their twenties. As other characters were introduced they came across as stereotypes. However, Kennedy was just getting started. Most of the safari guests became more complex as the trip went on, and the protagonist Naomi and her sister began to act their age after the first few chapters.

One the things I enjoyed most was the ongoing humor regarding the lack of internet access. Her description of other little things like the ubiquitous safari-themed decor, lavish meals and five a.m. game rides were all right on the mark, too. And anyone who has ever spent a night alone in the wilderness (yes, I have) will love reading about Naomi’s night alone in the tree house.

I recommend this book to those who like cozy mysteries, and to all who enjoy travel, whether they’ve been to Africa or not. This novel is a fine way to take a memorable armchair trip.

About the Author:

A R Kennedy lives in Long Beach, New York, with her two pups. She works hard to put food on the floor for them. As her favorite T-shirt says, ‘I work so my dog can have a better life’. She’s an avid traveler. But don’t worry. While she’s away, her parents dote on their grand-puppies even more than she does. Her writing is a combination of her love of travel, animals, and the journey we all take to find ourselves.

Find her on Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, Bookbub or on Twitter. 

Buy Sleuth on Safari on Amazon.

Yes, there is a giveaway.

A. R. Kennedy will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN gift certificate to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

My Favorite Excerpt:

I returned my attention to our current view. The lush green landscape in front of us. For over a mile, the varying shades of green spanned in front of us. Nothing man-made in sight. Even if you looked to your right or left, you couldn’t see the other lodgings. All you saw was nature.

Some of the greens started to sway. Initially, I thought it was the wind, but the movement was just in a small area. I pulled my binoculars out of my backpack for a closer look and gaped at what I saw.

Our phone rang and Charlotte ran to get it.

Now in full view, I watched a herd of elephants appear in the field. The twenty-plus elephants varied in age and sizes. The wrinkled gray bodies, with white curved tusks, marched along the land, spread out from each other. Their tails gently swung back and forth. Some stopped to graze. Their elongated trunks reached into the trees for leaves.

“It was Geri, from next door,” Charlotte told me as she returned. I pointed to the field. “Wow,” she gasped.

In silence, we watched the herd traverse the field. I snapped a few photos but spent most of the time just watching them. They walked slowly across the land. I smiled as a calf—that’s what Sonny told me a baby elephant was—trotted to keep up with his mother after he had fallen behind. The elephants’ trunks swung slowly back and forth as they plodded along. Occasionally, they stopped to graze a few leaves from the trees before resuming their journey together.

The herd now gone, I asked, “Why’d Geri call?”

“Wanted to let us know about the herd of elephants.”

I rested my head on the lounge chair. “That’s nice.”

“Ulterior motive, I’m sure.”

* A Personal Note:

I do love cozy mysteries but I picked this book primarily for its connection to travel in Africa. It did not disappoint. You can read about and see photos from my own safari at Happy Peace Day, Chinese Person in Tent Number 59 and Smiling my way across Kenya.

 

I Know When You’re Going To Die

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Michael J Bowler and his Mystery/Thriller novel, I Know When You’re Going To Die.

Author’s description:

Leonardo Cantrell is a painfully shy sixteen-year-old who cannot look people in the eye. One night while he’s volunteering at a homeless shelter, an old man forces eye contact and gives Leo the power to see Death.

 

His best, and only, friend—J.C. Rivera—thinks this new power is cool until Leo accidentally looks into J.C.’s eyes and “sees” his murder, a murder that will occur in less than two weeks. Stunned and shaken, the two boys sift through clues in Leo’s “vision” in a desperate effort to find the killer and stop him before he can strike.

 

Aided by feisty new-girl-at-school, Laura, the boys uncover evidence suggesting the identity of the murderer. However, their plan to trap the would-be killer goes horribly awry and reveals a truth that could kill them all.

My Review:

In the cleverly titled I know When You’re Going to Die, Michael J Bowler begins with a fascinating premise and delivers a taut and unpredictable tale. I raced through it.

What I liked best:

  1. The concept of needing to solve a murder before it happens is an interesting one. I’ve seen it elsewhere in science fiction, but the idea of having a “superpower” to know when others will die is unique, as far as I know, and the whole idea of solving a crime to prevent it is well executed here.
  2. The pacing is perfect. The suspense builds throughout the story and Bowler keeps the reader turning the pages without overloading or exhausting them.
  3. Leo, Bowler’s clinically shy good-guy protagonist, is a hero for all. Seriously, if you can’t cheer this guy on, consider seeking professional help.
  4. It’s a genre crime novel, so the reader knows the mystery will be solved just in time, but the ending is sufficiently convoluted and unexpected. It feels worth the wait.
  5. The underlying messages of friendship, tolerance and kindness are a refreshing bonus.

What I liked least:

I enjoyed this book a lot, and I think my minor issues with it stem from it being a young adult novel, one in which all of the protagonists are high school students. So, my recommendation comes with the caveat that the reader should not expect the story to go outside the scope of a young adult novel.

  1. I felt too many of the adult characters were not well-fleshed out. For example, the story included not one, but three moms who cared little about their teenage children. Hard for me to believe, but maybe not so hard for a teen-aged reader.
  2. The complicated relationship between close same-gender friends during the teen years and early sexual attraction and exploration is central to the story, and yet the author shies away from resolving issues. Again, I suspect the young age of the intended audience is the reason, so I gave him a pass on this one.
  3. The premise behind the plot brings up major philosophical questions about predetermination, death and even cause and effect. I’d have loved to see some of this stuff tackled … but again…..

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good crime story, or a good superhero story. You absolutely have to read it if you enjoy both.

About the Author:

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author who grew up in Northern California. He majored in English/Theatre at Santa Clara University, earned a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and a master’s in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills. Michael taught high school in Hawthorne, California, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities.

When Michael is not writing, you can find him volunteering as a youth mentor with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and raising his newly adopted son. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, and hopes his books can show young people they are not alone in their struggles.

Find Michael J Bowler on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram or on Twitter. 

Visit Michael J Bowler on his website.

 Buy I Know When You’re Going To Die on Amazon

Yes, there is a giveaway.

Michael J Bowler will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN gift certificate to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

My Favorite Excerpt:

I’m not sure how long I lay curled up on that beach before I hear someone huffing and puffing above me.

J.C.

I crack open my eyes. He’s doubled over, clutching at his sides and fighting for breath. Sweat streams from his wavy black hair down onto his face. “What…” he wheezes, struggling to breathe, “did… you… see?”

I unravel myself and sit up, pulling my knees in and clutching my legs tightly. I don’t look at him, instead scanning the surrounding beach. It’s a weekday and there’s nobody around except the lifeguard in his station, and he isn’t very close.

“Leo!”

I look up as he collapses to the sand and gazes at me with wide, terrified eyes.

Still, I can’t bring myself to say it.

He grabs me by both shoulders. His grip feels like iron. His panting has lessened, but not the fear on his face. “Tell me. Please.”

I lower my eyes again. “You’re…” I force myself to breathe. “You’re going to be…” I can’t say it.

“What?”

“Murdered!” I blurt, glancing at the stunned look on his face.

His mouth opens, but nothing comes out for a long moment. “When?” His voice is a choked whisper.

I don’t want to say it, but I have to. “A week from Friday.”

He gags, like he’s gonna throw up all over me. I’ve never seen him so vulnerable, so small and afraid, and that scares me more than what I saw in his eyes. He collapses onto the sand and cries.

 

Feeling at home

I was welcomed home a year ago, when I attended Burning Man for the first time. Over the course of my days there, this began to seem less strange. In some ways, I had stumbled upon a community of like minded souls, and I was home. That feeling, more than anything, is why I want to go back.

Last week, I attended my first World Science Fiction Convention (better known as Worldcon) at the amazing convention center in Dublin shown above. No one welcomed me home when I arrived, but after a day or two I realized they may as well have. This wildly varying collection of geeks are my people, too, and I feel every bit as at home with them.

What is surprising is the many things I found in common between these two different events, both of which spoke to me with such force.

Be you.

I’ve never meet two groups of people so dedicated to encouraging humans to be who they are in their hearts. From the wild array of costumes (and lack of clothing) at Burning Man to the colorful masquerade ball at Worldcon (shown left), everyone can let their inner light shine.

Participate, don’t observe.

Worldcon does not sell tickets to attend. It sells memberships in the organization, and being a member allows one to come participate. Do not expect to be entertained. At either place. They are both very clear about that.

Don’t be an asshole.

I found the culture of tolerance and acceptance as strong at once place as at the other, although I recognize individual experiences do vary. Not everyone may succeed every moment, but the aspiration of being both human and kind is a huge thing.

Do be capable.

Burning Man has its ten principals which include radical self-reliance. Worldcon just expects you to step in and handle the registration desk, or provide tech support, or whatever else you’ve grabbed a volunteer ticket for, and to do it as well as you can. Everything is done by a volunteer, and usually it’s a somewhat befuddled and inexperienced one. Everyone else is expected to be kind while the volunteer figures things out. It works better than you might think.

Among other things, I got to run the spotlight for the opening ceremony and for the Hugo awards, It was a position for which I was only marginally qualified. No one cared. Everyone thanked me very much. I had a lot of fun (and a terrific seat for both events.)

Be a community.

Along with the radical self-expression and individual competence, there is a sense of being a family. At worldcon, name badges let an attendee specify preferred pronouns and unisex bathrooms provided a space for everyone to be comfortable.

Worldcon went out of its way to accommodate those with access issues. Such efforts aren’t possible out on the playa, but the custom of gifting and the encouragement of assisting those in need of help has much the same effect.

Worldcon has been going on for 77 years now, attracting 5000 or so attendees to multiple countries. Next year it will be in New Zealand and I doubt I’ll be able to go. There are people who’ve attended for twenty or more years in a row.

Burning Man has it’s root in 80’s San Francisco. It now attracts nearly 80,000 people a year, many of whom have attended for twenty or more years in a row.

I’ll never be able to do that either, but I will be back at both events, hopefully many times. I think when you find a place in this world where you feel at home, you need to grab on to that. If you’re lucky enough to find such a thing in more places than one, well …. lucky you.

(Read more about my Worldcon adventures at And the winner, she is …., at  An Irish Worldcon: I’m here!  at A New Irish Experience and at Forward into the Past.)

 

 

How about this ad?

It started out so well.

Shape Lock 1

After I finally gained a little traction with Amazon’s lock screen ads for my first book, I hit the jackpot with my first Shape of Secrets ad shown to the right. I got 83,467 impressions, 475 clicks, and sold four books. Wow. Yes, I spent $63.78 doing it, but hey. I spent sixty some dollars selling one book for my first novel. I was making progress.

I’d also tried Amazon’s other choice for advertising, something called a sponsored ad. You don’t write copy for these; you pick either a bunch of key words, or you find other similar books, or you select a sub-genre or two. Then you bid to get your lovely cover displayed in the banner of suggestions that appears any time anyone buys anything on Amazon.

Shape Lock 2

I’d tried a mess of keywords for first book “One of One” and got one impression. That’s right, one. It was a very cheap ($0.22) and highly ineffective experiment. Forget keywords.

So for Shape of Secrets, I looked through Amazon’s suggested sub-genres. One was LGBT Fantasy Fiction. That was a category? Okay, the book is about a young gay man who can alter his appearance to look like anyone, so I guessed it fit. I tried it and got 87,684 impressions, 170 clicks, and sold three books. Hot damn. Yes, I’d spent$63.22 to do it, so I was losing money while Amazon was laughing all the way to the bank, but at least something was happening.

Shape Lock 3

At the start of this endeavor I’d set aside a few hundred dollars for climbing my learning curve as my own advertising exec. At this rate, I was going to be out of a job soon. I decided to dial back my budgets and bids.

Shape Lock 2 (my shorthand for the second Shape of Secrets lock screen ad) got 72,162 impressions, 343 clicks, spent $57.42 and only sold one book. Oops. Looked like the only thing I dialed back was sales. That wasn’t good.

I tried again. For no discernable reason, Shape Lock 3 crashed and burned with 443 impressions, 1 click and no sales. The ad never even had a Kindle Fire version, something I’m still trying to figure out. (Any ideas?)

Shape Lock 4

Curious, I tried almost the same ad again. Shape Lock 4 did almost what I wanted it to do. Except, only did it once.  It got 5,687 impressions, 12 clicks, and sold one book for $3.24. I almost made a profit! If I could get that up to two books, and then do it a hundred times …..

But I can’t.

I’m back to trying new text, targeting smaller groups more specifically, and trying new sub-genre sponsored ads. Is there anyone in this world more hopeful than a self-published author? Possibly not.
For more about my Amazon advertising adventures see “Would this ad work for you?”

Nice to be understood

I don’t usually blog about my reviews, and with good reason. When you ask someone to take hours out of their own life to read something you’ve written, it’s best to let them have their opinion and leave it be.

I know I’ve loved books others don’t like, and missed the charm many found in popular books. Reading is an interaction between the author and the writer, and the two don’t always match up well, even when an intelligent reader comes across a well done story.  We’re all different, right?

Kit 'N KabookleNone-the-less, it made me smile this morning when two reviewers of Shape of Secrets happened to get my style and like what I am trying to do. Mary DeSantis has a blog called Kit ‘N Kabookle, spotlighting books and authors of fantasy, science fiction, mystery/thriller/suspense, romance, and ya. She liked my “thought-provoking and expertly woven tale of the human condition.”

The Reading AddictThe Reading Addict, featuring “some of the books that I have read” loved “the way seemingly unconnected elements are introduced and elaborated on until things start to weave together into a fun and complex set of mysteries”

It wasn’t so much that the reviews were basically positive (though they were and I’m glad they were), it’s that these two reviewers happened to like what I’m trying to do. It’s no given in life, but it sure is nice when it happens.

 

How does he really look?

The human chameleon Zane can look like anyone, but when I first wrote Shape of Secrets (called y1 at the time) I was obsessed with how Zane really looked. My first cover included Zane as a child, and that guided my vision.

When I decided to rename my books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the characters, so it looked like I had to find someone who could show the world what the adult Zane really looked like. I found a group called Deranged Doctor Design.

The first head DDD proposed for Zane was great, but he had too much facial hair. (My realistic shape shifter is unable to alter the dead hair cells on his head and on his face.)

DDD came back with a second option and it just wasn’t right. I didn’t know what Zane looked like, but it wasn’t this. I could tell.

The third attempt looked right as soon as I saw it. He became Zane without modification.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Zane to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. This particular model did have many options to choose from, but unfortunately most of them weren’t so appropriate for the sort of book I was writing.

Zanes

 

PROPOSAL 2018-0814 S R Cronin b06 v4But among all the sexy options, there was another version of Zane that would work,  particularly when paired a body that fit well with my family friendly story.

It’s funny how this model now is Zane in my head.  I guess this is what he really looks like.

Learning to Juggle

I came home from a month long trip last fall, on fire. I knew what I was going to spend the next eight months doing. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it.

I knew I wanted to rewrite/heavily edit all six of my books to fit a grand vision. I wanted better titles, more marketable covers, less typos, more action and more sensitivity. Chapters had to be shorter, dialog snappier, and everything more pithy. Less Michener. More poet. Where to start?

I drew on my experiences in management in a former life to chart a course, knowing I would have to motivate and direct the most challenging human I’ve ever had to deal with — me.

I do like to make color-coded spreadsheets, so I let myself go wild. It didn’t look too bad. I can do this.

Now that I’m about half-way through this, it’s time to ask. How’s it going?

Well….. Book one is out there and I’m happy with it, but I don’t have nearly enough time to advertise or promote it.  It has a review tour going which I should be putting more energy into, and I just printed out a large-type copy for my narrator who has finished a chapter of my first ever audio book and is ready for more. The sound guy will have that chapter back to us for review this week. Yikes.

Book two is out there and I’m happy with it, but I’m struggling to even get basics done like make request reviews and order hard copies for myself.

Book three comes out in two weeks. It’s still with my final proofreader and that’s making me nervous. I don’t have the paperback cover yet because I ran so late in getting the text for the back cover to my designers.  Argghhh.

Book four is on hold, having been edited. It’s ready for my final read through which I was supposed to be starting next week but there is just no way.

Book five is being edited now, and the new cover is in progress. Been through two iterations on the cover and it’s looking good. Will get what is hopefully the final version on Wednesday.

I’m not even thinking about book six.

Honestly, this is all too much to hold in my head at once. I keep checking my spreadsheet thinking I’m forgetting some essential component somewhere. There’s got to be something I’m forgetting.

Sleep? Food? Wait. In the process of trying to juggle everything, I think I’m forgetting to enjoy this.

 

90001 words and ready

Last month I held my breath and input the information to change the name of my first novel. I was changing a few other things at the same time, like of the cover (of course) and how I present my name. For all my worry, the experience went remarkably well.

Now, I’m ready to do it again. Shape of Secrets is as done, double checked, and triple checked as it is going to get. I’m into formatting and prepping mode, with the hope of submitting all formats on Sunday the 17th, getting approval Monday the 18th.

The initial word count was 125,665. This new slim version comes it at exactly 90,001 words. I think that’s really cool for a book that used to be called y1.

Bitchy Editor is Back

I wanted to tweak my book One of One before I re-released it with a new title and cover. Last summer I gave it a gentle read, cutting more than I expected. Afterwards, I worried I had messed with the continuity, and this fall I decided I best do a quick second pass, just to make sure everything still flowed.

Hmm …. I don’t know what happened to the gentle reader, but when I started on it the second time through, I met my new alter ego. I’ve come to call her Bitchy Editor. She stepped out of my subconscious and sunk her teeth into my first book with a blood-thirsty zeal.

I wanted fast assurance that my text flowed well. She decided to look at every sentence and demand to know what it was doing in my book. Why does this matter? Who cares about this? Why is that in here?

The result was a better book. Maybe a little less charming here and there, but readers will never miss those cute detours I once took.

One of One is now ready for its January 17 release, and I’ve moved on to the same process with Shape of Secrets. Its gentle read happened last fall, and a few days ago Bitchy Editor took over. She’s got all sorts of problems with this book. Why doesn’t anyone here ever use a contraction when they speak? Nobody uses big words like that? What does that even mean?

She’s having a good time, I think. To be honest, it’s hard to tell. Shape of Secrets is taking shape, however, in new and better ways. I’ve set the release date for Monday February 18 and I hope to be ready to thrown this, my second creation, out into the world then with a joyful scream.

Almost my new cover

I love where Deranged Doctor Design is going with this cover. What do you think? I’m having such fun re-birthing my second novel. The newly named and highly edited new version will be out in mid-February and I can’t wait.

Curious to see the first two versions? Here’s the first proposal.

I liked it, but wanted more orange, and more of a sense of the tropics. Also, Zane’s shape-altering abilities force him to forego facial hair in the book, so Zane had to change. Finally, much as I like the lasso of fire, as I called it, on the first book, I didn’t want to commit to having it on all six covers. So here is the second version.

I liked everything about this one but Zane, or more specifically Zane’s head. I could tell we were getting close, though, and we were.