Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review: "Scorpio Rising: New Age Noir" by Alan Annand

Review © 2014 by Joyce Mason

My intrigue and delight intensified as I read Scorpio Rising. Not only is it a page-turner; it’s full of information about astrology, palmistry, Ayurveda and other assorted esoteric arts. These ingredients become a powerful potion when stirred with the pointed intuition of protagonist Axel Crowe. He has access to clues as a symbol-wielding private eye way beyond law enforcement’s linked databases. Axel is uncanny, a Sherlock Holmes without the attitude. He’s a near-saintly character whose walk on the straight and narrow has been influenced by his guru of many years who has recently set him free to fly solo. Before we think Axel’s too virtuous, we find he’s got an only- too-human bent for playing the ponies, a vulnerability that makes him believable any time he veers too close to the edge of almost too good to be true. And in the clinch, he will fight crime in a more literal sense.

There are two things I enjoyed most about the book. First, there are three places and subplots that are alternated throughout the chapters. Initially, I thought this would be confusing, but instead, Alan Annand braids them into one intriguing, tension-increasing story line. As the suspense mounted, I kept sensing and even getting inklings about how the three scenarios would all come together, yet I was still pleasantly surprised with the denouement.

Second, Annand’s sense of humor, especially in naming his characters and in the occasional wordplay thrown over Axel’s shoulder, kept me smiling and enjoying, page after page. This intelligent, versatile author’s eclectic experience on numerous subjects is presented in the most casual and effective way. I felt like saying, “I knew that!” even when I did only because the author gave me a course in a nutshell in a few preceding sentences.

I can barely wait to read #2, the next installment in the Axel Crowe series, called Felonious Monk. Axel Crowe has won a place in my detective hall of fame on the first try. Author Alan Annand is one of my favorite new finds. Highly recommended!


For more fiction and humor by Alan Annand, visit his website,

Cardinal Grand Cross Update

It's just around the corner! The Cardinal Grand Cross reaches its peak on April 22-23. Astrologer Anne Beversdorf, trained in both Western and Vedic astrology, has a metaphor about the Grand Cross and how we can expect to experience it in her latest newsletter that's the best I've heard yet. It's free to subscribe to Anne's Stariel Astrology Newsletter, and since this is just one of her brilliant observations and interpretations, I encourage you to consider it.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Astrology in Fiction

New Composite Book Genres Featuring Astrology and Astrologers

© 2014 by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved

 A sampler of Astro-fiction books

I had never encountered anything like it when I first began writing my novel, The Crystal Ball, in 1989. I was still learning a lot about writing, and my book and I suffered from genre confusion. I didn’t know if The Crystal Ball (then called something else) was a romance, a mystery or some kind of yet-to-be-defined metaphysical and literary variety show. Looking back on the original manuscript, it was a cross between a Janet Evanovich/Stephanie Plum novel and a Harry Potter book for grown-ups—grown-ups who wished they could live forever in a Fantasyland called San Francisco. Mostly, it still is, throw in a lot of basic 101 presentations on metaphysical topics. I should add; it’s way more grounded than it might first sound.

In the intervening years, however, composite genre novels that feature astrology and other metaphysical tools have started to crop up more often. When I began The Crystal Ball, I had just fallen in love with Chiron, a composite planetary object, part asteroid and part comet. Chiron taught me the value of hybrids. Composites often beat putting things into tidy boxes, a principle that applies to book categories, too. Now that brick-and-mortar bookstores are dwindling in favor of virtual shopping experiences, a book’s single genre label is less important. In a store with shelves, it’s important to know which shelf to put it on. (Mystery? Romance? New Age?) In the virtual environment where key words are the stuff of searches, the more words or genres that describe a book, the more it will be found by diverse readers interested in its multi-topics or themes.

After feeling like the Lone Ranger and ahead of my time, wondering if I could really sell an astrologer protagonist: The next time I heard about an astrology-themed novel was when Donna Cunningham was writing her eBook  published in 2004, Hotline to Heaven followed by Angel in Peril. (More on this pair below.) Donna has been a friend and mentor for over 30 years, so I had the fun of hearing about these works in progress. Of course, I loved her idea.

Meeting author Sunny Frazier circa 2005 at one of my local Sisters in Crime writers’ meetings introduced me to my next astrological mystery, her first novel in the Christy Bristol series, Fools Rush In. Come to think of it, I just got the pun about how Sunny’s and Donna’s titles combined described my feelings in the late ‘80s—like a fool rushing into where angels dared not tread, thinking I could come out of the closet about astrology in a novel anyone, “New Age” or not, could read. Back then, I still often encountered conservative people who thought my belief in astrology was insane or as one man bluntly put it, “out of touch with reality.” No wonder it took me two-and-a-half decades to work up the courage to make the leap.

Thanks heavens we’ve come such a long way in the quarter century since then. More recently, astrologer Armand Diaz coined a new term for mysteries that feature astrologers. In his article The Astrologer Did It: A New Kind of Mystery, he calls this emerging genre Astro-detective fiction. In addition to The Crystal Ball, he mentions Scorpio Rising by Alan Annand and Stalking Anubis by Steven Forrest.

Being part of a new trend that “Chironizes” books by creating fascinating hybrids would, of course, turn me on.

Thanks to a number of synchronicities, I also heard about an increasing number of other Astro-detective and Astro-metaphysical type novels recently. I thought it would be fun to share the titles, a bit about them, and to give my readers the joy of discovering fiction that appeals to your love of astrology.

You know how Virgos love research. I knew there had to be others. Here’s what I dug up, so far. The author links have blurbs or author interviews with details about the books. Most can be purchased at the usual online stores, such as Amazon or B&N.

Fiction Astro-Bibliography with Links for More Info


Other Articles or Sites with More Astro-Fiction Lists

Not wanting to stop with my own limited list, I managed to discover a couple of places where others had gathered titles featuring astrology in fiction:

Donna Cunningham, Trailblazer

No surprise with her Aries Moon, Astrologer Donna Cunningham wrote Hotline to Heaven over a decade ago, a book she offers as a free PDF through her Sky Writer blog site. Learn more and download a copy here. (See Introducing Donna’s Two Mysteries about mid-page.) Donna also sells the sequel, Angel in Peril, on the same page for $6.

If You Know of Other Books to Add to the Biblio …

Please share in the Comments! I’d like to update the list periodically on The Radical Virgo. And if you’ve got a book review on any Astro-fiction title, contact me about possibly sharing it here.


 Send your Astro-fiction book suggestions to joyce [at]

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Humor: Your Sun Sign's Favorite Read

© 2014 by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved

Before we get more serious with books and reading lists this Book Month on the Radical Virgo, I wanted to honor the fact that this month starts with April Fool’s Day. It’s also National Humor Month. Tipping my hat to both, I got together with my wiseacre alter ego, Auntie Joyce, and we envisioned the favorite books of each zodiac sign. Feel free to disagree—or add to your sign’s fave—in the Comments. Who can have just one favorite book?

ARIES: The Indiana Jones series by various authors, including James Rollins, Steve Perry and Max McCoy. Indy’s the ultimate adventurer and predicament pioneer. He flies by the seat of his pants and has no time but the present to crack his whip and solve his latest life-or-death dilemma. These books will fire up any Aries to make the best of those natal qualities of loving and charging through danger.

TAURUS: The Sensuous Woman by “J” (1982) and The Sensuous Man by “M.” (1971) They’re oldies, but if you read the comments on Amazon, they’re still goodies. Examples from The Sensuous Woman: “Laughingly dated but surprisingly solid.” What earthy sign doesn’t like a good laugh while boning up on how to make more senses of life?

GEMINI: The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare. With twins at the heart of this light-and-dark comedy, any Gem is likely to resonate with his or her inner twin to the wit, mistaken identities, slapstick and verbal humor.

CANCER: Mickey’s Gourmet Cookbook: Most Popular Recipes from Disney World and Disneyland by Disney Book Group.  It’s vintage and All in the US Family, as Mickey has been a part of Americana since 1928. It’s about food, and it makes kids happy—and the kid within us all. Cancer will read it like a novel and feed you from it, if you’re lucky.

LEO: The Aspiring Actor's Handbook: What Seasoned Actors Wished They Had Known by Molly Cheek and Debbie Zipp. All your world is a stage. Know how to work it!

VIRGO: Any Miss Manners book, pen name of journalist Judith Martin. As you’ll see from this link and her bio, Miss Priss is a bona fide Virgo. (Big surprise.) If you’re old enough, you might just have had Etiquette as a subject in school like I did. My favorite title is Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. For fiction, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries or Lee Goldberg’s Monk books. Caution: The latter might possibly bring so many of your annoying Virgo traits to your attention; you might set yourself up for a reactive slob streak.

LIBRA: Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus by John Gray. Whether you’re a Venus guy or gal, this classic on how communication differs between the sexes will help you deal best with what you care about most—love. Recommended especially during the current Mars in Libra Retrograde transit. We need all the help we can get.

SCORPIO: The Art of War by Sun Tzu. This is the perfect choice for Scorps with their dual Rulership by Mars and Pluto. Unlike Aries who is more likely to shoot first and strategize later, Sun Tsu’s classic oozes the Scorpionic ability to psych out the enemy and even spy on him or her. The Art of War has been used in modern business as well as on ancient battlefields. Any Scorp true to his or her nature will get into both the game and the wisdom and probably find some laughs in this epic on handling enemies.

SAGITTARIUS: The Know-It-All: One Person’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs. If the title weren’t enough, this memoir on Jacobs’ obsession to learn everything is apparently laden with humor. Laughter, BIG learning and romps through history that are a vicarious journey around the world through time: What’s for Sag not to love?

CAPRICORN: How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying: The Dastard’s Guide to Fame and Fortune by Shepherd Mead. The book, on which the successful Broadway musical is based, has been dubbed classic, timeless and hilarious by readers. It may suggest to success-happy Caps that hard work isn’t the only way to get to the top—and you’ll surely have a good time contemplating the alternatives within this short romp (160 pp.). Reader feedback suggests its message “ … still is 90% true of the office environment today.” Satirical and ultimately lyrical in its musical incarnation. Will appeal to the Capricornball sense of humor.

AQUARIUS: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Can’t you just imagine your favorite Aquarian hitching a ride on a comet? Quirky, funny and ahead of its time anytime.

PISCES: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Nothing could be more grounding for the often floating and spiritually-minded Pisces than coming into the present moment. As proof that Pisces is indeed the culmination and soup of all 12 signs, this book holds power for everyone. The ultimate tip from The Radical Virgo Recc Room!


Photo Credit: © determined -

Friday, April 4, 2014

April: Book Month on The Radical Virgo

© 2014 by Joyce Mason

Since I’ve begun writing novels, I’ve been reading more—primarily fiction. I’ve discovered some things I think you’ll want to know about.

During April we’ll take a look at who’s writing astrological fiction. Turns out there are more authors than I knew! I’ll share some blurbs about their work. We’ll have a couple of full-length reviews, both of fiction and non-fiction on astrological topics.

I’m on a reading kick this year for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to promote my own novel on Goodreads, so I started tracking my reading there. It’s kind of like tracking points on Weight Watchers, another past good habit I’m about to get back to. Following my own progress and setting goals leads to more success. I’m doing a book challenge of reading 35 books this year, which at the pace I’m going, I’ll exceed to the point of about a book a week. I think I could have committed to 50, but I’m trying to tame my Jupiter trine Mars overachievement. Better to overshoot the goal and cut myself some slack, especially with this year’s big personal agenda. I'm also enjoying the excuse to sit down and how it rejuvenates me to get that big To Do List done.

My return to my bookworm roots brings back fabulous memories of our rickety old library in my burgeoning Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn, Illinois in the 1950s. The library was so old; its ugly brown linoleum pitched at what felt like at least a 35-degree angle. It was musty and smelled peculiar, but it was like finding buried treasure to a wide-eyed kid. I once heard someone ask, if you could only have one card in your wallet, what would it be? Mine would be my library card. My mother had fits as I read constantly in poor lighting by my bedside. That habit may or may not have led to my extreme near-sightedness and coke bottle glasses till I turned 14 and my hands-on-knees begging my mom for contacts finally worked.

Second, I picked up my reading pace early this year so I could cast an intelligent vote at the Left Coast Crime conference for the award nominees. I admit, reading 20 books in six weeks was not a possibility for me, as I had not yet read one of the books in contention except for excerpts. I did hit the Kindle samples and read those that I knew would most appeal to me, and I just have to share the list of nominees and winners with you; it’s so terrific. I want to read most of them, and I bet you’ll find some great reads, too.

In this list I discovered the best book I’ve read in years, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. There’s something about it that reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird, because it deals with heavy topics from a child’s perspective and is told with humor, sensitivity and ultimate optimism despite dealing with death, bigotry and other meaty issues. It touched me from the Prologue, and I cried several times. Mostly, it has the real goods about what’s important in life when it comes to love, community and not letting first impressions stand, as the truth is often buried deeper.

Since The Radical Virgo is known for its large dollop of humor, you might want to especially check out the entries for the Lefty or humorous novel. April is National Humor Month—all the more reason.


Winners highlighted

The Lefty: Best Humorous Mystery Novel
  • Donna Andres, The Hen of the Baskervilles (Minotaur Books)
  • Timothy Hallinan, The Fame Thief (Soho Crime)
  • Lisa Lutz, The Last Word (Simon & Schuster)
  • Brad Parks, The Good Cop (Minotaur Books)
  • Cindy Sample, Dying for a Daiquiri (Cindy Sample Books)

 The Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award: Best historical mystery novel covering events before 1960
  • Rhys Bowen, Heirs and Graces (Berkeley Prime Crime)
  • Susan Elia MacNeal, His Majesty’s Hope (Bantam)
  • Catriona McPherson, Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses (Minotaur Books)
  • David Morrell, Murder as a Fine Art (Mulholland Books)
  • Priscilla Royal, Covenant with Hell (Poison Pen Press)

The Squid: Best mystery set within the United States
  • Sue Grafton, W is for Wasted (Putnam, Marian Wood Books)
  • Darrell James, Purgatory Key (Midnight Ink)
  • William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace (Atria Books)
  • Hank Phillippi Ryan, The Wrong Girl (Forge)
  • Terry Shames, A Killing at Cotton Hill (Seventh Street Books)

The Calamari: Best mystery set anywhere else in the world

  • Cara Black, Murder Below Montparnasse (Soho Crime)
  • Lisa Brackmann, Hour of the Rat (Soho Crime)
  • Catriona McPherson, As She Left It (Midnight Ink)
  • Louise Penny, How the Light Gets In (Minotaur Books)
  • Jeffrey Siger, Mykonos After Midnight (Poisoned Pen Press)

By the way, I’m proud to say that two of the authors on this list are my Sisters in Crime, members along with me of Capitol Crimes, the Sacramento Chapter of the national mystery writing organization. They are Lefty nominee Cindy Sample and Bruce Alexander winner Catriona McPherson—both talented, fun and terrific ladies.

More “bookings” on these pages—soon!


Photo Credit:  Hooked on books © Leo -