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Men to Avoid in Art and Life

Men to Avoid in Art and LifeMen to Avoid in Art and Life by Nicole Tersigni
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A clever, funny book that matches classic paintings of men and women with captions of the men saying sexist, patronizing things to the women. I laughed out loud several times. Genuinely hilarious with some biting social satire.

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Addams’ Apple: The New York Cartoons of Charles Addams

Addams' Apple: The New York Cartoons of Charles AddamsAddams’ Apple: The New York Cartoons of Charles Addams by Charles Addams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clever, witty, and delightful cartoons by the inimitable Charles Addams, all highlighting the absurdities of life in New York City. Just perfect.

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Spirits Unwrapped

Spirits UnwrappedSpirits Unwrapped by Daniel Braum
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whenever mummies are mentioned, you can be forgiven for thinking of dusty Egyptian tombs and a bandage-wrapped Boris Karloff limping out of a sarcophagus. After all, that’s how pop culture has depicted mummies for decades. However, editor Daniel Braum offers a different vision in this excellent anthology, tasking his authors with casting a wider net and delivering mummy stories that break through the tired, stale depictions. You won’t find any of the old cliches here.

Thanks to Braum’s discerning taste, there’s isn’t a bad story in the bunch. Choosing favorites is difficult, but if I had to choose three standouts they would be: “Private Grave Nine” by Karen Joy Fowler, a tale of obsession with rich depictions of characters on an archaeological dig; “Mummy Fever” by David Wellington, an absolutely charming story about a mysterious man on a museum-robbing mission in 1920s New York; and “The Hand of Annie Jones” by Casilda Ferrante, an award-worthy masterpiece about two desperate young women in 1800s Australia who engage with dangerous magic in an attempt at break free of their lives of servitude.

SPIRITS UNWRAPPED is well worth the time of any fan of horror, dark fantasy, and even science fiction, and it’s a must-read for anyone interested in mummy stories that are anything but run-of-the-mill.

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The Scariest Part: Sheila Lowe Talks About DEAD LETTERS

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Sheila Lowe, whose latest novel in the Claudia Rose series is Dead LettersHere is the publisher’s description:

A heart-pounding hunt begins when Claudia Rose’s young niece goes missing with an archaeologist whose shady past spills into the present. The frantic search takes Claudia to Egypt, Gibraltar, and the UK, where her skills as a forensic handwriting expert of international renown are needed to help foil a deadly terrorist plot — if only she can find Monica before she becomes a casualty.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Sheila Lowe:

I do my best to bury myself deep in my characters’ heads, especially when writing about someone who is not like me. In other words, not a white female of a certain age. The scariest part of writing Dead Letters was writing from the point of view of a Gen Z eighteen-year-old girl. Yes, I was eighteen once, but that was in 1968, which makes me a Boomer. The world, and teenagers, have changed more than a bit since that time, when i-Phone were not even a distant dream in Steve Jobs’ imagination. There was no X-Box; not even a microwave oven at home, let alone big-screen TVs or Uber. My own kids are Gen X-ers — in their forties now. They don’t know much more about Gen Z than I do. Research was called for.

According to Uncle Google and Aunty YouTube, today’s teens have a very different outlook than in the “old days.” Oh, sure, the basic angst is still there — boyfriend/girlfriend stereotypes — and now, an entire gender spectrum to cause even more confusion. Or perhaps unravel it. We always fretted about our weight and how we looked, but now it’s called “body image,” and when bullies mock or criticize, they may be called out for “body shaming.”

Gen Z’ers seem less hesitant to express themselves, to ask for what they want, do what they want. In general, they are pragmatic “digital natives,” diverse and politically progressive. Still, with apologies for the cliché, becoming an adult in the twenty-first century is no piece of cake. We Boomers had the Cuban Missile Crisis and nuclear war to worry about, and later, the Viet Nam war and the bra burning that came with Women’s Lib. Gen Z has climate change, immigration, race and gender equity, social consciousness, ‘me too.’

So, putting aside what I knew about teenage girls from my own experience and seeing the world through Monica Bennett’s eyes was pretty scary. The niece of my main protagonist, forensic handwriting expert Claudia Rose, Monica is fulfilling a lifelong dream to visit Egypt and work on an archaeological dig, when she is kidnapped by terrorists. Up to that point, she had been fairly sheltered and innocent in a sweet way. Experiencing it in my mind, I knew without doubt that such an experience would instantly steal everything this young woman knew and held close.

Whatever might have seemed important before becomes trivial in the face of the need just to survive from moment to moment. Are they going to rape her? Torture her? What might they make her do for their cause? Only-too-recently, Monica studied about Jihadists in a high school class. She knows from an intellectual point of view what these zealots are capable of. Now, she’s going to learn about it firsthand.

Meanwhile, Claudia is traveling the globe in a desperate search for her niece. Stumbling across physical evidence that Monica was in a utility closet in a remote building in Gibraltar is not just scary, it’s terrifying. What was Monica doing in that closet, and why are there bloodspots on the floor? Is it her blood? And the biggest, scariest questions of all — where is she now? Is she still alive?

If I did my job well, my readers will identify with both Monica and Claudia, and be as scared witless as I was while writing Dead Letters. Pleasantly scared, of course.

Dead Letters: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / Bookshop / Goodreads (with giveaway)

Sheila Lowe: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / BookBub

Sheila Lowe writes stories of psychological suspense that put ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances. Like her fictional character Claudia Rose in the award-winning Forensic Handwriting series, Sheila is a real-life forensic handwriting examiner who is recognized as an expert in the court system. She also writes the Beyond the Veil paranormal suspense series and nonfiction books about handwriting and personality.