Book Review: Snake Face

Snake Face (Book III in the Mae Martin Mystery series)

Mae Martin is moving into the next phase of her life, what she’d been planning when last we saw her in Amber Foxx’s second psychic mystery, Shaman’s Blues. College in New Mexico has started and she cautiously enters a new relationship with Stamos, a fellow student with whom she later plans a road trip, given their destinations not far from each other.

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Snake Face, B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree

Very soon after the novel’s opening, Foxx utilizes a blend of dialogue and omniscient narration to bring readers up to speed on where Mae has been until now, and it works like a charm. The passages also introduce the above-mentioned Stamos Tsitouris as he and Mae get to know each other and work out an agreement for cross-country travel. Stamos provides background regarding his former wife and Mae recalls Jamie Ellerbe—known professionally as the musician Jangarrai—as she still tries to come to grips with the experience of having to reject a friend.

Previous Mae Martin Mystery readers will remember Jamie from Shaman’s Blues as well-meaning but clingy, and even Mae found herself frustrated by his constant presence and overwhelming energy. Mae, by now on her first date with Stamos, reflects on the differences.

“They were comfortable enough not to talk constantly, and Mae found it refreshing and peaceful, an ideal first date.

Jamie had never shut up. He’d been funny, or distressing, depending which way his random mind bounced, but even when he was entertaining he’d been exhausting. Stamos was relaxing to be around and yet sexy enough to give a little edge to his presence.”

 From this solid opening, Foxx moves forward in her tale, demonstrating her strength as we read a story written more tightly than its predecessor. Mae herself seems to be sturdier as well, having previously had to manage Jamie’s challenging personality, inner demons and raw inexperience with regard to navigating through life’s ups and downs. Though it takes some time in the book to measure Jamie’s success following the events of Shaman’s Blues, we see that he, too, has gained some confidence and competence, though the question of whether it will be enough is present throughout most of the story.

When Mae and Stamos inadvertently meet up with Jamie, who is attending to his own road trip—a music tour—there is discomfort on both sides while simultaneously bonding begins to occur amongst characters and readers alike. This installment’s Jamie is much easier to like, his eccentricities not so weighty, awareness more fine-tuned. He begins to pick up some of his own slack and this allows readers to focus more on enjoying his company. He attempts to explain it to Mae with a reference to the club’s name: Snake Face.

As part of the décor, “a crudely carved wild-eyed little man” catches Mae’s attention and she sees that “[o]ne side of his face was hot pink, the other livid green. His snaggle-toothed mouth gaped…at a spotted yellow snake crawling down his nose.” Recognizing the symbolism within himself, Jamie tells her, “Great Mexican nightmare art…Fighting ‘em off as best he can.” Not long after he repeats the last line, this time substituting the first-person pronoun to bring the reference to bear on himself.

One of the elements I enjoyed most in this installment is how Foxx alternates Jamie and Mae’s viewpoints, utilizing tension and cliffhangers to keep the pages turning. Apart from this however, it is satisfying to travel with all parties as they encounter their respective events and the theme of personal growth apparent throughout the book. This isn’t to say things wrap up easily; Foxx knows all too well life simply doesn’t pan out this way.

Starting with theft from his elderly and ailing van, Jamie encounters a series of events that not only plague a road trip already encumbered by depression, but also threaten to shut it down entirely. He knows this is a make-or-break season and readers can’t help but cheer him on as his pushback communicates to his tormenter that he will not easily be brought down. Drawing on his wits and a savvy in its toddlerhood, Jamie himself alternates between the two colors of the snake face’s emotions: pink of the fury beneath the surface and green of the envy he harbors that others seem to be able to deal with life’s plagues so much more efficiently than he. As he begins to connect the pieces, drawing from memory and clues left behind meant to tantalize his mind, he is required even to fight his own inclinations as he counsels himself to “fight them off” as best he can.

We see Mae continuing to get to know Stamos, a relationship Foxx skillfully keeps real, with tiffs and larger disagreements often brought on by misunderstandings and sometimes resolved if both recognize another theme rolling through the book, that of communication in various forms. Mae becomes aware of the drama playing out in Jamie’s life and connects to his surroundings visa her psychic abilities. Worried and stressed, she participates in a cat and mouse game leading to and from the culprit who, she comes to realize, has no qualms about moving into dangerous, even deadly, territory. Moreover, the links she begins to piece together create a picture in which Stamos plays a role and his reticence causes her to worry about its source.

It’s difficult to overstate how much I enjoyed reading Snake Face. Though previously Jamie had been more challenging to get close to, following his emotional growth and the detective-like path he and Mae both follow becomes more thrilling as the tale pushes forward and the sense of “this is not a game anymore” becomes more pronounced. Foxx also explores how depression takes shape as well as the ramifications of perception.

There is also a wider cast of characters, which makes sense, given the drive across a continent, and Foxx works them into the story seamlessly, Moreover, it isn’t all serious business: humor maintains a rightful place in Snake Face, including within the critical, such as animals playing a therapeutic role. Jamie’s humor shows itself intact when he names his adopted, and very flatulent, cat Gasser. In one of the most touching realities about relationships Foxx portrays for us, we see that this once unwanted cat needs Jamie as much as he needs Gasser.

I found this installment even easier and smoother than number two, and would perhaps go as far as to say it is better, though this could be unfair given how different it is to Shaman’s Blues, which doesn’t have quite as fast a pace. Its mood is also noticeably more somber, whereas number three is more of a nail biter. I do recommend reading number two, though not because Snake Face cannot be read as a standalone—it certainly can. However, having read Shaman’s Blues, somehow I find knowing the precise history Mae and Jamie share lends a deeper richness to Snake Face. What the two books do have in common is the B.R.A.G. Medallion, showing off Amber Foxx’s style, themes, plots and characters to be winners in the imaginations of readers, who keep coming back for more.

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The blogger received a free copy of Snake Face in exchange for an honest review.

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The Calling e-book, first in Amber Foxx’s Mae Martin Mystery series, is on sale for $1.99 until June 13th. Click here to get your copy today!

About the author…

AmberAmber Foxx has worked professionally in theater, dance, fitness, and academia. Her training and academic studies in various fields of complementary and alternative medicine, including energy healing, bring authenticity to her work. She has researched psi phenomena through the scientific literature and by talking with seers and healers. A college professor and yoga teacher, she divides her time between the Southeast and the Southwest, living in Truth or Consequences during her New Mexico months.

The fifth book in the Mae Martin series, set in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and the Mescalero Apache reservation, is well underway and should be out later in 2016.

You can learn more about and follow Amber Foxx at her website. Shaman’s Blues and other books are available for purchase at a variety of outlets and can be accessed here.

Images courtesy Amber Foxx

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Book Review: Shaman’s Blues

Shaman’s Blues (Book II in the Mae Martin Mysteries series)

by Amber Foxx

A B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree

shamanSecond in Amber Foxx’s Mae Martin Mysteries series, Shaman’s Blues gives us a sneak peak into a dire moment in Jamie Ellerbee’s life, then re-opens with Mae Martin as she prepares to leave her Virginia practice where, until now, she offered energy healing and psychic services. A year since discovering her psychic ability, Mae is now in the midst of a divorce and about to embark on a journey to New Mexico, where she will attend university and re-unite with her father, who came out and separated from his family when Mae was a teenager.

Before leaving, her soon-to-be-former supervisor, Deborah, gifts a CD of healing music to Mae, with an “ulterior motive,” as Deborah playfully calls it. The musician, Jangerrai, seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth, or at least from Santa Fe and all known Internet, and Mae is tasked with finding him.

It doesn’t take Mae long to encounter a variety of personalities: her father and his peevish partner, Niall; Kenny, her new neighbor; even Muffie Blanchette, owner of a local restaurant that caters to what Neill refers to as “spiritual tourism.” Dada Café, called after an art style later linked to theater, utilizes customers in a similar way as the stage movement, with the philosophy that the “audience is as much a part of the show as the actors.”

Muffie, who typically circulates, advising patrons on colors, food intake and the state of their auras, disappears following an encounter with pragmatic Mae, who is then informed by the manger, Roseanne, of Muffie’s stated intent to ascend. She thinks Muffie is a whackjob, and shows the psychic Muffie’s website:

Sri Rama Kriya teaches us how to choose our time and leave our bodies without pain or death, how to channel our spirits directly to the upper realms of energy and light. When you study Ascended Bliss, you are freed from the cycle of karma and rebirth, and from your body.

At this point Roseanne enlists Mae to find Muffie, steering her two searches together and leading the healer toward a path inhabited by a series of quirky characters of many temperaments. Foxx even sets the story in a place with a cautionary moniker: Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, pertinent not only for being an unusual designation, but also the city’s acquisition of it whereby the inhabitants became part of the television show it gets its name from.

As I was getting started, I’d wondered if the book would read like a New Age novel, but Foxx keeps it diverse, with doubt even from Mae re: the veracity of some individuals’ beliefs, and includes the added bonus of treating vulnerable characters with dignity. Shaman’s Blues is also a smooth read with an intriguing landscape to match the sense of place infused within:

Openness to the odd fit with the character of the land: vast empty spaces of juniper-stubbled pink-beige dirt, dramatic wind-carved cliffs, narrow hoodoo towers, broad mesas, blood red arroyos, black volcanic teeth jutting from brown earth. Anything seemed possible here.

 Fortunately, Mae is open to these possibilities, and as she encounters answers new questions arise, leading her to be a detective of sorts in the life’s mysteries referred to in the series’ tagline, “Every life hides a secret.” What secrets are these two people hiding? As she makes considerable strides in her searches while also trying to live her life, Mae begins to recognize the realities of hiding behind created identities, to become someone more fascinating as well as more ordinary, to hide from others and from one’s own self.

As Mae locates Jangerrai and begins to unravel some of the mystery behind a semi exchange of roles involving the two missing persons, she becomes familiar with the world of the shaman, part of his world whereby an individual in aboriginal Australian society is chosen by the spirits to learn to utilize the elements and act as a go-between for the human and spiritual dimensions. It is a heady realm to be investigating and the skittish singer only slowly and reluctantly reveals to Mae the events that brought him to the place he now inhabits.

The journey is one that Foxx maps out with expertise and finesse, playing knowingly to reader expectations and drawing back at just the right moments. We feel Mae’s frustrations, sometimes groan at her enduring patience, and always eagerly read on to see what she is coming to know, whether it be more recounting of events or details that link her closer to understanding the past. It is a topographic exploration of the psyche to learn the lay of the land, and she must walk it to determine the features and their limitations, as well as which direction to move from there.

Few of us have the gifts Mae is given, but we have in common with her our own limitations, such as with a likeable but needy person who holds on too much, too long.

It was going to be a long, long night. Mae hoped she could get through it still liking him. He had the potential to either entertain her or get on her nerves, and it was a fifty-fifty which way things would go.

The author also tosses in the familiar in a new way—  “Whoop – missed the street – chuck a yewy”—and humor we can relate to—“a van that looked old enough to vote”— to create a balance of the fresh and familiar. In so doing, she also tells us a story with a potentially heavy framework, but in a manner that keeps us from having to perform the heavy lifting.

As she begins to wind down, Foxx also gives us a thrilling few moments, within the plot as well as where it all will take those involved, including readers. I personally was pleased to see that certain events do and do not transpire, and how the author takes us back to Mae’s beginnings while also showing the resultant links amongst various players. These are sure to spur readers to seek out number one in the series and learn the events in Mae’s own life, her marriage, the discovery of her gifts, everything that leads her to the moment she herself now inhabits, where we as readers first came together.

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AmberAmber Foxx has worked professionally in theater, dance, fitness, and academia. Her training and academic studies in various fields of complementary and alternative medicine, including energy healing, bring authenticity to her work. She has researched psi phenomena through the scientific literature and by talking with seers and healers. A college professor and yoga teacher, she divides her time between the Southeast and the Southwest, living in Truth or Consequences during her New Mexico months.

The fifth book in the Mae Martin Series, set in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and the Mescalero Apache reservation, is well underway and should be out later in 2016.

You can learn more about and follow Amber Foxx at her website. Shaman’s Blues and other books are available for purchase at a variety of outlets and can be accessed here.

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A copy of Shaman’s Blues was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

Images courtesy Amber Foxx.