Joe Café by JD Mader: a review

A bloody massacre at a beloved diner in a small town sets Joe Café in motion, and, boy, does it move! A little Elmore Leonard, a little Pulp Fiction, JD Mader’s crime thriller sparks and crackles with tension, laying out a grisly tale of hit men, strippers, mob bosses, serial killers, and trout.

Yes, trout.

The story is dark and violent, but even the most sociopathic of Mader’s characters have the capacity for tenderness and loyalty, making us question the nature of evil: are those who do terrible things inherently evil, or have they been misshapen by life’s hard breaks?

Cutting between “good” characters sliding downhill and “bad” characters seeking redemption, Mader crafts the rhythm and contrast that make this fairly short book fly by while leaving a deeper, haunting impression behind. I would absolutely recommend this book, and I can’t wait to read more of Mader’s work.


Want to be a better writer? Read more!

Happy news! According to the National Endowment for the Arts, daily reading, once on the decline, is rising again. Here are some good reasons you, as a writer, owe it to your career and to the next generation to keep making daily reading a habit.

1. Reading keeps you abreast of the current market. Some writers disagree about this, but reading current books in my genres gives me a broad idea of what’s out there and helps me position my novels in the marketplace.
2. Reading teaches you good writing techniques. Just like playing tennis with a better player helps you improve your game, reading great books urges you to raise the bar on your own writing. My favorite example is Zombie, a novella by Joyce Carol Oates. Somehow she made empathize with a serial killer. I went from being awed by that on the first reading to drilling down to exactly how she did it, and the specific techniques she assigned to the protagonist in character development. Remember, it’s okay to borrow a technique (as long as you use it in your own voice) but NOT to plagiarize!
3. Reading increases your vocabulary. I love books that send me to the dictionary. I once told this to novelist/short story writer T.C. Boyle, when I met him at one of his events. He smiled at me, and then signed my copy of his book in Latin.
4. Reading helps you explore other genres than your own. Some days I get a bee in my bonnet to try historical fiction. Reading them gives me an idea of how it’s done and the challenges I will face.
5. Reading makes the world smaller. Books take us through the looking glass, to faraway lands, and across the universe. In doing so, we learn about other countries, religions, and cultures. We understand each other better. And how can that be anything but good for you as a writer and as a citizen of the world?
6. Reading keeps your imagination sharp. For over ten years, I judged a literary contest for a local school district. I noticed an interesting trend. For a while, the level of imagination exhibited in the children’s stories declined. Then Harry Potter came along, and as if someone waved a magic wand, the stories flourished with creativity. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
7. Reading makes you more attractive. And why not? Reading makes you smarter, and according to some studies, intelligence is an attractive quality when choosing a mate.
8. Reading supports fellow authors. In this tough business of publishing, don’t we want to support each other?

Why do you read? If you had three minutes with a person who doesn’t care for reading, what would you say to try to change his or her mind?

Get a Load of These Tomatoes!

Just a reminder, my friends, that THE JOKE’S ON ME has been nominated for best romantic novel in the P&E (Preditors and Editors) Readers Poll. This poll recognizes the hard and often overlooked work of authors, editors, illustrators, and publishers, mainly indies. It’s quite an honor to win.

Because the site that conducts the poll for P&E is run mainly by volunteers, and we do want the voting to be fair and properly tallied, the process may look a bit convoluted and the site can run slowly at times. Here are the basic steps to vote for my book:

1. Go to this link:

2. Scroll down to “The Joke’s on Me.” (The books are listed alphabetically.)

3. Click on the circle in front of the title.

4. Fill in your name, e-mail address (I assure you, these are NOT stored or sold), the CAPTCHA code (they want to know you’re a human, not a spambot), any comments you’d care to make about the book, then click “SUBMIT VOTE.”

5. A screen should pop up telling you how to FINALIZE your vote. You should receive an email to the address you’ve given, from “”.

6. When you get this e-mail, click on the link shown to finalize your vote.

7. If you’d like, consider voting for 4RV’s other nominees in other categories. In particular, my publisher, Vivian Zabel, has been nominated for best author, art director Aidana WillowRaven, who works terribly hard and does great work, has been nominated for best artist, and 4RV is in the running as a whole for publishing print and e-books.

Voting closes at midnight, January 9th. Thank you ever so much for your help! Major celebratory beverages will be poured if I win! (I’m currently running third.)

Charmed Life: a review

Charmed Life, the second book in the Brass Monkey Series by Susan Wells Bennett, is a charming, highly readable delight. The Brass Monkey, a Sun City, Arizona bar, is the fulcrum for the series, published in paperback and e-book format by Inknbeans Press. Charmed Life swings around to focus mainly on the lives of two characters: Sax, the bar’s owner (an ex-cop from New Jersey), and his friend and patron, Sondra Lane, former soap opera diva and master of turning lemons into lemonade. Sondra, busted down to struggling for good roles in community theater, worries that the best of her days are behind her until what she’d considered an embarrassment from her past leads to a new fan base and a particularly interesting new fan.

As with the first book in the series, Wild Life, there’s also a mystery to be solved, and while doing so, Bennett draws us deep into Sondra’s and Sax’s histories: their triumphs, disappointments, the turning points that landed them where they’d never intended, and going forward, the deepening of their friendship. (Don’t despair, fans of Claire and Milo: they’re also part of the story.)

I read most of the book while traveling, had a wicked hard time putting it down, and even had to be reminded by a flight attendant to turn off my Kindle so the plane could land. What I admired most about Charmed Life, like Wild Life, is the compelling way Susan Wells Bennett draws a character. Each, even her minor players, are human, deeply flawed at times but in the end, endearing. I wanted all of them to find the love and happiness they deserved. Keep writing, Susan…I MUST know how this plays out!