Book Review | “Styx & Stone” (An #EllieStone #Mystery, No. 1) by James W. Ziskin

Posted Thursday, 2 June, 2016 by jorielov , , , , 0 Comments

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Acquired Book By: I was selected to review “Heart of Stone” by JKS Communications: A Literary Publicity Firm. JKS is the first publicity firm I started working with when I launched Jorie Loves A Story in August, 2013. I am honoured to continue to work with them now as a 3rd Year Book Blogger.

As a new reviewer for Seventh Street Books, I was quite intrigued by discovering another new author under this imprint for Prometheus Books, as thus far along I have found this imprint to be producing wicked good content for mystery enthusiasts! I requested if it were possible to receive the first book in the series, “Styx & Stone” as this series is in-progress and has a total of four novels thus far released.

I received my complimentary copy of Styx & Stone from the publisher Seventh Street Books in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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What I am appreciating from Seventh Street Books Mystery authors:

[ Jennifer Kincheloe ]

Sophisticated in her ascertainment of conception behind Anna Blanc, Kincheloe has writ such a lively character, you drink in her words with such a joy of delight! She has a fast paced narrative, where the humour is smitten by the sophisticated edging of her character’s personality, matched equally brilliantly by the grace of a Cosy Historical Mystery backdrop! She’s captured the turn of the century atmosphere aptly, as she tucks in recognisable familiarities to alight in your imagination as you turn the pages; replete with gaslights and other bits which correlate with the era. (from review of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc)

Anna Blanc was the first character who caught my readerly eye so to speak when I originally found Seventh Street Books and had read through their Current Front List catalogue to see what story would intrigue me as I was picking my first story to review. There was simply something about this historical mystery that tempted me to say “Yes, please!” and I was not disappointed! If anything, it left me hungering for a sequel and a continuation of Anna Blanc’s journey! She was writ so wondrously well, every inch of this novel was unputdownable because it was realistically compelling and lovingly conceived to live inside it’s era of choice! What was happily unexpected was the cheeky humour and the levity, the author underscored to the harder hitting edges of the story! I loved her personality and spark she granted to Anna Blanc – such a lovely discovery for me!

[ Larry D. Sweazy ]

I dearly appreciate the dramatic styling of Sweazy’s approach to writing this mystery series as it’s breadth is far deeper than the psychological impacts of crime and the tragic losses endured by those who are left behind to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Sweazy digs deeper into the heart and mind of his lead character (Marjorie Trumaine) whilst using her as a guiding point towards understanding the undercurrents of her small Dakota towne – it’s in this approach that I have found myself so happily entrenched inside the Dakotas, and happily residing a bit on the Trumaine farm whilst I walk beside Marjorie as she puts the clues together and finds truth out of secrets hidden from view. (from review of See Also Deception)

The Marjorie Trumaine mysteries caught my eye after Anna Blanc – I have had a hankering for wicked good mysteries for quite a long while now – they are dearly one of my favourites to curl up inside – especially the cosy side of the ledger, but this series – wow. I had hoped it would be a series I could disappear inside, but I could never have fathomed how heart-centred I felt to the Dakota small towne and whilst becoming fully entrenched inside the spirit of Marjorie Trumaine! I spent a heap of lovely hours happily in step with Marjorie’s pursuit of the truth and as each story in turn was quite unputdownable – I dreamt of the story whilst away from it – I could only hope a third installment will come along soon! Perhaps within a year? It’s that wicked brilliant! It’s also singularly unique – a dramatic crime story full of introspective intuitions about humanity and the human condition!

[ Susan Spann ]

Spann continues to write in such a beautiful arc of narrative voice, styling her cosy historical mysteries after the culture she celebrates with each novel she pens. She keeps the characters true to not only their own personal beliefs and convictions, but to the cultural heritage they are naturally akin to representing. I may have voiced wanting to see more emotional responses from the samurai, but that was only as an observational notice of how well controlled their emotions are and how wisely they choose not to show too much emotion to the outside world; as it would be a completely slip of weakness. There are simply times where you feel as a reader, one character, even if a minor one in a story might react differently than their training; and it is in this, that I celebrate Spann’s gift for historical accuracy as much as personality of character accuracy. The ways of the West and the East do not always align, and by representing her characters with the strength of their own individual personalities, a bridge is reached and crossed. (from review of Blade of the Samurai)

Spann’s Cosy Historical Mysteries are moving to *Seventh Street Books* this year, and I already have my copy of her debut release with them “The Ninja’s Daughter” of which I will happily be devouring this Summer whilst featuring a review close to it’s Pub Date in August! Spann smittened me with this curious portal into Japanese history wherein I found myself tucked inside her character’s lives with such a zest of intrigue I could not believe my wicked luck in finding the series! To be able to continue to celebrate this series per each new installment as they release is a true blessing for a reader whose simply over the moon happy one of her recent favourite series has found a new home with her new favourite publisher of Mysteries! The martial arts and the influences of Japanese tradition and cultural heritage is truly what captured me and has sustained me alongside the beautiful friendship Spann has underwritten into Father Matteo and Hiro’s relationship.

Why the Ellie Stone Mysteries felt like another ‘good fit’ for me:

The first thing that went through my mind when I read the blurb for Heart of Stone, was how interestingly a title can make me think about Jesse Stone! The title character in the television mystery movies featuring Tom Selleck in the lead role created by Robert B. Parker! They (the Jesse Stone mysteries) are a bit harder edged than most of the mysteries that whet a thirst of interest for me to read and/or watch (as I not only read mysteries, I devour Crime Drama & Mysteries in tv and film!) yet surprisingly I was attracted to the downtrodden Jesse Stone who was repairing his soul as he re-built his life in a small towne.

I seem to be on a bit of a ‘1960’ mystery hunt, as the Ellie Stone mysteries take place in early ’60s whereas the Marjorie Trumaine mysteries follow shortly thereafter! Concurrent to this, I found another mystery author (Reavis Z. Wortham) who writes his own Red River series in the 1960s of which has a likeness to the atmosphere inside a Marjorie Trumaine mystery! I’ve decided to follow where my readerly heart takes me, as Wortham’s first novel The Rock Hole was borrowed via ILL (inter-library loan) in late May, however, I unfortunately found I had to return it the day it arrived. I had not realised there is an incident of animal abuse and cruelty in the development of the mystery itself.

In regards to Ellie Stone directly, I liked her felicity to take-on a man’s role and dare to do a job only known for the men who owned it’s niche whilst re-identifying it as her own. Women can do anything they set their mind towards, but in the early 1960s that was not as obvious as it would be in later decades.

Ellie Stone felt like the type of feminist and forward-thinking female character I could rally behind – not only for her moxie to give men a run for it but for how she approached her work. I love strong characters (men and women) but what I love more are strong characters who are redefining a stigma they are living inside in order to find the freedom to be taken on their own terms! No one wants to breathe a space defined by someone else’s prejudices – and to me Ellie Stone felt like the kind of woman who could shatter predetermined mindsets and solve mysteries at the same time!

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Book Review | “Styx & Stone” (An #EllieStone #Mystery, No. 1) by James W. ZiskinStyx & Stone
Subtitle: An Ellie Stone Mystery
by James W. Ziskin
Source: Direct from Publisher

Ellie Stone is a professed modern girl in 1960s' New York City, playing by her own rules and breaking boundaries while searching for a killer among the renowned scholars in Columbia University's Italian Department.

"If you were a man, you'd make a good detective."

Ellie is sure that Sgt. McKeever meant that as a compliment, but that identity-a girl wanting to do a man's job-has throttled her for too long. It's 1960, and Ellie doesn't want to blaze any trails for women; she just wants to be a reporter, one who doesn't need to swat hands off her behind at every turn.

Adrift in her career, Ellie is back in New York City after receiving news that her estranged father, a renowned Dante scholar and distinguished professor, is near death after a savage bludgeoning in his home. The police suspect a routine burglary, but Ellie has her doubts. When a second attempt is made on her father's life, in the form of an "accident" in the hospital's ICU, Ellie's suspicions are confirmed.

Then another professor turns up dead, and Ellie's investigation turns to her father's university colleagues, their ambitions, jealousies, and secret lives. Ellie embarks on a thorny journey of discovery and reconciliation, as she pursues an investigation that offers her both a chance at redemption in her father's eyes, and the risk of losing him forever.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9781616148195

Also by this author: Heart of Stone

Also in this series: Heart of Stone


Genres: Crime Fiction, Noir Crime Drama, Thriller


Published by Seventh Street Books

on 15th October, 2013

Format: Paperback Edition

Pages: 267

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Ellie Stone Mystery series:

Interesting Trivia: this series has been optioned for a television series!

“Stone Cold Dead” – received a nomination for the 2016 Lefty Award for Best World Mystery Novel. “No Stone Unturned” received a coveted Anthony Award nomination for Best Paperback Original in 2015.

Styx & Stone | No.1

No Stone Unturned | No.2 | Book Synopsis

Stone Cold Dead | No.3 | Book Synopsis

Heart of Stone | No.4 | Book Synopsis

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Published By: Seventh Street Books (@SeventhStBooks)

Available Formats: Trade Paperback and Ebook

Converse via: #EllieStoneMysteries OR #EllieStoneMystery

Read an Excerpt of Styx & Stone on the author’s site!

About James W. Ziskin

James W. Ziskin

A linguist by training, Ziskin studied romance languages and literature at the University of Pennsylvania. After completing his graduate degree, he worked in New York as a photo-news producer and writer, and then as director of NYU’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò.

He has since spent 15 years in the Hollywood post-production industry, running large international operations in the subtitling/localization and visual effects fields. Ziskin grew up in Amsterdam, New York, and now lives in the Hollywood Hills.

Photo Credit: William Ziskin

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Characterising Ellie Stone:

Ellie Stone is fiercely her own woman – she marches onto the page ‘bold as brass’ and rightly determined not to apologise for how she approaches life, men and the choices she makes between her salaried job and the romantic rendezvous she entertains after hours. Cutting quick to the point, she erases doubt and owns the life she’s living in such a firm steed of ‘take me or leave me’, you nearly forget she’s writ inside a story centred round the year 1960! She approached everything with cunning intellect and a zest for being the best reporter she could be without falling prey to being continuously cross-compared to men or applauded for moving the women’s movement forward.

You can tell she’s a keen reporter, she doesn’t hesitate to ask questions which put people off-guard nor does she back-down on asking questions she feels are warranted, even if someone else feels differently. Watching her go for a volley of will and words is quite lovely, as Ellie comes out ahead each time, as not even men can always withstand her critical insight into human behaviour and the natural suppositions on criminal behaviour. She does wonderfully when she goes against someone whose underestimated her, giving her ample opportunity to learn far more than if they had suspected she’d hold her own.

My Review of Styx & Stone:

Ellie Stone lives her life by her own principles with a flair for being on the edge of knowing how her story is going to unfold; she lives high in the moment without taking too much thought for tomorrow. This pattern catches up to her a bit, as her peers lay a critical eye on her choices in beaus whilst giving her the harrowingly difficult news that her father is hospitalised after a senseless assault during a robbery at his flat in New York. This jolts her equilibrium towards shaky ground, unrooting her a bit at her core.

One marker of recognition for me is when she enters Manhattan via the George Washington Bridge – seriously, once you cross the bridge for the first time, the moment leaves an imprint on you. Majestic and towering, it’s one of my favourite bridges to cross whilst I had to nearly pinch myself I was driving straight past New York City and a stone throw’s from the Bronx whilst entering New Jersey. Jersey by the way you can simply fly through straight til you hit the Big Dig up in Boston! Geographically speaking, it was quite lovely to know even a smidge of where Ellie was for a brief period of time!

Descriptively acute in seeing how Ellie steps backwards into her recent past, where her life once occupied time spent with her parents, we start to see how difficult of a transition it is for her to try to make amends from the lapse of hours spent away. Her mother already passed, her father barely clinging to life in the ICU, Ellie retraces her father’s tragedy by returning to the scene where it all went so very wrong. She is happily greeted by the elevator operator (Rodney) who is as delighted to see her as she is to see him; a childhood favourite person of hers and one who had sincere sympathy for what occurred. Ziskin creates a space to occupy during the year of his story to such a degree of visuals, as you cannot forsake his world for our own 21st Century. I appreciate these small gestures of details, the lengthening of solidifying the timescape and changing how everything is perceived through a lens of a different era.

No sooner had Ellie started to piece together small clues leading up to her father’s attack, then she started to glimpse the harder truth that this might have been premeditated, arranged and expertly planned as she started to notice a pattern of ill-will towards her family’s religious heritage. It began with questions into her father’s assault and continued even after she learnt her brother’s grave was disheveled and altered. Troubling thoughts to be sure, but Ellie is a pillar of strength with a mind to ferret out truth from plausible fiction; she wasn’t quite buying the angle of events from the police or by anyone else either – no, Ellie was capitalising on what she understood to be true and seeing where it would lead.

Her mind was recalling old ghosts since put to rest, where thoughts turnt past grief into a muddling spiral of unresolved anguish intermixing with her current worriment over her father’s condition. His prospect to recover less than favourable, Ellie tried to resolve both her mind and her heart whilst each new enquiry she made on behalf of ‘what happened’ lead her to more questions than the answers she was seeking to find. Even caught up in the academic world of her father’s (he’s a Professor of Letters; focusing mostly on Dante’s writings), she had an inquisitive eye for what to ask of people but tying everything together proved daunting. Ellie quickly found her way back to her father’s bedside, where she hoped at least her presence would help encourage his pending recovery. Memories of how her father chose to view his daughter and their less than stellar relationship notwithstanding, Ellie tried to shake off the past as much as the past felt no remorse in unsettling her nerves.

Whilst Ellie was shifting through the remains of her father’s desk, musing about how dark Dante wrote his poem some 600+ years prior, I had to nod in agreement – as it was the tone and context of Dante’s writings that never thirsted an interest of my own. Meanwhile, Ellie’s past had a way of encroaching on her even if she’d rather it staid put as she found herself drawn to connecting with an old friend of whom whose husband she shared a connection; one of the formative experiences for Ellie was learning the hard truth about how some men are not as faithful as they appear. These little glimpses of experiences which shaped Ellie into the woman she is now, proves how hard it is to remain unjaded by the curious snaking of circumstance that can twist your view of the world. In full essence, Ellie has lived a heap of years in her young life, not all of her experiences are ones to be proud of for sure, but she’s not one to rest on her laurels. She picks herself up, moves forward and tries to see the good in people despite her disappointments. Part of why I think she has such keen instinct into human behaviour is because of how her path has crossed with individuals who sought to deceive her, thus cluing her into the deceptive nature of humanity.

For those of us who are lesser inclined to read Dante, Ziskin has given us a primer within the heart of what is motivating the crimes against Ellie’s family. I was thankful for the digest version of the main contextual elements; I think overall Dante is a bit too visual for me (i.e. more Horror than my Cosy Horror heart prefers) but understanding how Dante crafted his opus in literature has telling truths about what is happening to the Stones. The current strife is laced back into the history of World War II and the atrocities faced by the Jews; Ziskin connects the history and the current conspiracy against Ellie’s father quite well. He let’s the story ring out the truth but does so with a compassionate heart even though it’s a hard topic to explore. The difficulty for Ellie was piecing everything together without chasing down another rabbit hole leading nowhere but a red herring; the intricacies of the plot against her father was all-encompassing to the brink it was hard to unravel to where truth yielded out of what was fighting to remain hidden.

I felt the title was aptly suited to this story, as there is an old saying quite fond of elementary school children which begins with “sticks and stones” moving onward to talk about what can break your spirit or courage to tackle life as it arrives at your feet. At least, if you took a deeper meaning out of the childhood talking game, you’d perceive it as such. In this way, I felt the title nodded to the fuller depth of how religious prejudice and persecution of individuals out of hate or a lack of tolerance can affect a person’s actions. I felt there was a certain duality to the title – both as a cautionary nod towards childhood and as a layered meaning towards how far some might take their jaded view of the world. At first I wasn’t sure how keen I was on the cover art, until I realised Ellie is a wicked tall woman and her ‘legs’ draw men’s eyes first before they realise she has a brain! It’s a classic misnomer about ‘beauty and brains’, etc. and how first impressions can misalign to disappropriate a person’s worth. In this vein, I felt it was a cheeky nod to how some might dismiss Ellie out of hand before they realise she’s as smartly intune with sleuthing as Columbo!

On the writing style of James W. Ziskin:

He began Styx & Stone as a journalled entry on behalf of Ellie (his spunky female lead) by relating a small historical record of what befell Native Americans at a tragic chapter of their lives at the same location where we ‘greet’ Ellie, of whom was in her sound mind to be choosing her bedfellows. He writes his mysteries with an edgy vibe towards a hard-boiled suspense novel that reads at a fast pace and hopefully doesn’t let you loose pertinent details as you get caught up in the rhythm of what he’s disclosing for you to take stock of as your reading the series for the first time. The last time I dipped inside a smartly writ ‘hard-boiled this side of cosy’ was a Coffeehouse mystery by Cleo Coyle; where characters are slightly gritty round the edges, who like a hard drink every so often and whose affairs of the heart are as entertaining as sorting out the motives for the crimes! In other words, I knew I might be on the fringes of my comfort zone reading this series, but therein I found it appealing to read as it would be unlike most of what I gravitate towards on a regular basis!

As I settled quite seamlessly in-step with Ellie’s recollection of the events (as the journalling style carries through the novel) I tried to put my mind to tip the point of what I liked about Ziskin’s writing style. It is a bit stronger in some places compared to most cosies I have a dear penchant for devouring but it’s not as strong as some of the cuppa coffees I will accept if I’m pulling an all-nighter; even if more than not, caffeine has the opposite effect on me. He reminds me of my happy surprise in realising how much I loved the style of David Morrell (of whom shares the surprise, as apparently I was not the typical reader who took to his de Quincey mysteries) – it’s not quite what I expected, it’s a bit better! In fact, these are the type of stories (in-line with the Coffeehouse mysteries, too, to be fair!) I revel in discovering because it proves to myself how wide I truly love to read Mysteries, Suspense & Thrillers.

This was my first reading of a noir style detecting novel, although I have dipped into watching noir crime films via Turner Classic Movies (TCM) as I have a propensity for Crime Dramas moreso than other genres of interest. I appreciated the sophistication of the plot threads as much as the alternative settings, where we follow on the heels of an upcoming young woman just entering her career whilst finding she has a keen mind to solve crimes. It’s a classic style in the making, as it re-defines what your expecting and gives you a new experience of how a well-crafted noir story can be brought to life so very beautifully. I am finding second to Cosies, Noir Crime Dramas are my next most immediate favourite!

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This book review is courtesy of:

JKS Communications: A Literary Publicity Firm

JKS Communications Reviewer Badge

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I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary! Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst bloggers who picked up the same story to read.

Find out why I love #Noir #CrimeFiction by @Jameswziskin w/ his #EllieStoneMysteries! Click To Tweet

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{SOURCES: Book Cover Art for “Styx & Stone”, “No Stone Unturned”, “Stone Cold Dead” and “Heart of Stone”, author biography, author photograph of James W. Ziskin, book synopsis, and reviewer badge were provided by JKS Communications and used with permission. The book trivia facts were provided by Seventh Street Books via the Press Releases they sent me with the books for review (Styx & Stone and Heart of Stone); used with permission. Ruminations & Impressions Book Review Banner created by Jorie in Canva. Photo Credit: Unsplash Public Domain Photographer Sergey Zolkin. Tweets are embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Comment Box banner made by Jorie in Canva. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2016.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Thursday, 2 June, 2016 by jorielov in #JorieLovesIndies, 20th Century, Adulterous Affair, African-American Literature, Amateur Detective, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, Book Review (non-blog tour), Brothers and Sisters, Classical Music | Composers, Clever Turns of Phrase, Crime Fiction, Death, Sorrow, and Loss, Debut Author, Debut Novel, Diary Accountment of Life, Epistolary Novel | Non-Fiction, Equality In Literature, Father-Daughter Relationships, Fathers and Daughters, Grief & Anguish of Guilt, Hard-Boiled Mystery, Horror-Lite, Indie Author, Investigative Reporter | Journalist, JKS Communications: Literary Publicity Firm, Judiasm, Lady Detective Fiction, Life Shift, Multi-cultural Characters and/or Honest Representations of Ethnicity, Music History, New York City, Noir Crime Drama, Religious History, Siblings, Singletons & Commitment, Sociological Behavior, Story in Diary-Style Format, The Sixties, Vulgarity in Literature, Writer, Writing Style & Voice




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