11 April 2013

Trends: Novellas for the eReader, including a review of two by Kathleen Valentine

I know that series authors have been in the practice of writing short stories for anthologies and on their websites to keep fans involved while they are waiting for the next book to come out.  There is a new trend, though, that I have noticed since the advent of eReaders and the rise of the Indie Authors.  This trend is for authors to write short novellas that are not just stopgaps in a series, but that are stand alone stories all their own.  Not that the art of the short story is new.  Authors have been writing short stories forever.  The likes of Ernest Hemmingway, Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, and Flannery O'Connor have been writing short stories and novellas for quite a while.  What makes this trend new, though, is twofold.  First, many of these stories are being written by Indie authors, and secondly that they are being offered only in an electronic format.  This new practice is a hit with me, especially since I am participating in a year long challenge to read one short story or novella per week for 2013.  

Recently, I read two such novellas by one of my favorite new authors, Kathleen Valentine; The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic and The Crazy Old Ladies Revenge.  I have to admit, my mother read the first story when it was first published,  but I didn't get to read it until recently. I really wish that I had read it sooner.  Mattie and Stan inherit a Beacon Hill townhouse from Mattie's Grandmother on GrammyLou's death. In The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic, the first story in Kathleen Valentine's Crazy Old Lady series of stories, they decide to spend the summer living in the townhouse so that they can fix it up and sell it. As they sort through GrammyLou's belongings, a story unfolds that has Mattie and Stan intrigued and nothing will do but for them to figure it out. This story had me intrigued, too, from beginning to end. I have a thing for psychological thrillers and this one, though short, is up there with the best. In true Kathleen Valentine style, this story is so well written that I became immersed in it. I sat down to begin reading it and before I knew it I had come to the end. The end itself left me satisfied, but at the same time, wishing for more. Another story would be just the thing. 

The Crazy Old Lady's Revenge is the second story in Kathleen Valentine's Crazy Old Lady series. Like the first story, The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic, this story is a first rate psychological thriller. In fact, I liked the story line for this one a little more than the first. The story line here was more complex than the first one and I really had to pay attention. I loved the way that Kathleen dropped clues throughout the story. I was constantly guessing at where the story was leading, and constantly changing my mind, too. Along with the great story that Kathleen weaves in this story, was a great cast of complex characters, some of whom are not what they seem at first. 

I can't wait until the next story of this series comes out, but luckily, I have several other stories and novels of Kathleen's to read while I wait. I have been a huge fan of Kathleen Valentinesince I read The Old Mermaid's Tale and another of her short stories, Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter. So far everything that I have read by this author has been excellent, she is all that is wonderful about Indie authors.

For those of you who like psychological thrillers, don't wait on these .  Read them now! You won't be sorry.  

09 April 2013

Tuesday's Review: The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello

Ever since the DaVinci Code came out, and I saw the movie National Treasure, I have been fascinated by stories that blend action/suspense with a strong historical base. The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello takes this even a bit further and actually tells two distinct stories. The first is the story of government epidemiologist Frank Slater, who has been tasked through out his career with doing research in the worst places that the U.S. Government can send him. His current assignment is no different as he is sent to a small, isolated island off the coast of Alaska to research a colony that was completely annihilated by the Spanish flu. I found this story to be an adventure tale of the best kind, complete with treasure hunters, colorful local characters, a bit of local Inuit lore, and a race against an enemy buried for over 100 years in the frozen turf. 

The characters in this first story were engaging from Frank Slater and his team, all the way to the treasure hunters and their families. I actually felt quite a bit of empathy for Harley, mostly due to the huge impact his decision to pull up the coffin from the sea had on his life. I wondered if he would have done things differently if he could do a "do over". My favorite characters, though, were the members of Frank Slater's team, especially Frank, Nika, and Professor Kozak. 

The first story would have kept me turning pages and gotten high reviews, even if it was presented by itself, but this book had a bonus. That bonus was a second story centered around the end of the Romanov Dynasty, and the age old controversy of whether Anastasia Romanov was killed with her family or escaped. Masello takes this myth and wraps it up in a love story between Ana and a young Bolshevik guard who is give the job of guarding her. Here again, he weaves a wonderful story that could stand on its own perfectly, and is, for the most part, perfectly believable. 

Blending two stories, as was done here, can be a hit or a miss, but in the case of this book and with the skill of this author, it is definitely a hit. In addition to enjoying both stories, I really enjoyed the way that Masello was able to weave them together with such smoothness and ease. The only part of the story that I didn't feel was necessary was the supernatural element. It's not that it didn't fit, or that it wasn't well presented. It did not detract from the overall story one bit. I just felt that the two stories were excellent by themselves and that the supernatural element was unnecessary. 

I have heard others talk about how the ending was a transparent set up for a sequel. Whether a sequel is written or not, I found the ending suitable prophetic and thought provoking. As such, I felt it was perfectly legitimate. 

I am actually a bit surprised that this author has not been on my radar before now since I really enjoy reading books of this type and have read several by Steve Berry and Brad Meltzer, along with everything Dan Brown has written. He is definitely on my radar now, though, and I plan to read the other books that he has written. 

A big thanks to Netgalley and Random House for furnishing me with a Unproofed copy of this book to read and review.