Authors Beware of deals that seem too good to be true – they are just that!

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There’s been a number of articles on various sites about publishers who hook unwary authors into contracts that give nothing in return. Many indie authors have fallen into this trap—I include myself, unfortunately, in that number.

 

When I was working on my first book length manuscript, a book on leadership that I was encouraged to write by a young man who worked for me as my speech writer when I was U.S. ambassador to Cambodia (2002-2005). After slaving over the manuscript for nearly three years, I went searching for a publisher.

 

I encountered an ad from PublishAmerica, a Maryland-based small imprint that, unlike the many vanity publishers advertising at the time, touted the fact that they PAID authors for their work instead of asking for payment. Knowing, or at least suspecting, that the book I’d written would have limited appeal, it didn’t sound like a bad deal, so I submitted it.

 

A few weeks later I received an email advising me that my book was accepted for publication. Attached to the email was a contract. Naïve in the ways of publishing, I unwisely didn’t have that contract read by a lawyer before signing it. From what I’d read, it didn’t seem to bad – the advance was paltry (a mere $1.00), and I was locked into an 8-year commitment. But, the book would be published, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

 

It was published, but from that point on, it was a nightmare. The cover was somewhat amateurish—even then, just learning the art of designing book covers, I could’ve done a better job. The price was a bit high, I thought, but again, I was new to all this and didn’t know any better. I was encouraged to buy copies for myself at a measly discount from the inflated cover price. The royalties were also small; something like 8% of the cover price (compare that to the 75% you can get publishing it yourself through the Kindle Direct Program, or even the rather generous percentage you get when you publish a paperback through CreateSpace). They did, at least, list it on all the major book-seller sites; Amazon, etc.

 

Surprisingly, there were a few early sales, and I even got it included in a couple of libraries (The U.S. State Department Library, and my college library, to name two). A few people I met at conferences, who had read it, also informed me that they’d purchased copies to use in their management training programs. Despite this, my royalty checks over the past eight-plus years have yet to exceed $50. Looking back, when I compare this to the $100 per month I get through KDP, and an average of $30 per month through CreateSpace and other sales of paperbacks, I can see that what seemed at the time to be ‘too good to be true,’ in fact was just that.

 

The eight years in the contract are up now, and you would assume, as implied in the contract, my book rights belong to me. Guess again.

 

PublishAmerica changed its name to AmericaStar, in an effort, I believe, to attract foreign indie authors, but its practices remain the same. It does nothing to promote the books it accepts, beyond importuning the author regularly to buy copies, and lately it has done something that seals its fate as far as I’m concerned.

 

Over the past 60 days, I’ve been getting emails from AmericaStar nee PublishAmerica, informing me that the company is getting out of the publishing business and going full time to book promotion. In doing so, it plans to sell the rights to the books it holds to another ‘Indie’ publisher, but I can get them assigned to me for a modest fee of $199—it said in the initial emails that this was to cover the cost of removing it from selling platforms, etc.

 

At first, I couldn’t believe they would have the gall to do something like this, so I just ignored the first four or five emails. Then, they said, if I couldn’t afford $199, for a few days I could get my rights back for a mere $149. Again, I ignored them. A week later, another email, informing me that I had only two days to BUY my rights back, and they were doing me a big favor by reducing the cost to $99.  Thoroughly steamed by now, I just filed the emails away and went on to other projects.

 

The latest are . . . funny, pathetic, I’m not sure how to characterize them. I now have 24 hours to obtain the rights to my own work for $79. If I fail to do this, someone else (as yet unknown) will own the rights to my book, and they can’t promise what the buyer will do with these rights.

 

Thankfully, I’ve self-published scores of books since my first mistake, and while I’m not on any best-seller lists, and not getting rich from it, I’m enjoying fairly regular sales, and getting some pretty solid reviews. As for buying the rights back to my own work—I’m in wait-and-see mode. If the last email is correct, I will probably be hearing from the mysterious new publisher someday soon with a request that I buy my book, or something equally ridiculous.

 

I’ve written that book off as a lost cause, and a lesson learned. Never were the words caveat emptor more appropriate.

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Review of ‘White Fang’

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Part dog and part wolf, White Fang is, along with his mother Kiche, the sole survivor of his pack. When he and Kiche are taken in by an Indian tribe, White Fang begins a journey from Wild to Domesticated that is long, arduous, and painful.
White Fang by Jack London is a companion to London’s Call of the Wild, told mostly from the animal’s point of view. This reissue of a London classic has some editorial revisions, according to the publishers, but retains the author’s voice and ability to portray the untamed frontier of his day. For a reader who wants to be introduced, or as in my case, reintroduced, to a classical American literary figure, this book is an excellent jumping off point. The characters, though animal, are portrayed in terms that humans can understand, but without ‘humanizing’ them.
This book shows why Jack London was one of the most regarded authors of his time. I received a free copy of this book, and without hesitation, give it five stars. It has not been released on Amazon yet, but when it is, I strongly recommend it.

Review of ‘Men With a Mission’

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With the introduction of conscription in 1960, and the increasing possibility of its involvement in the conflict in Indo-China along with its ally, the United States, the Australian Defence Ministry recognized the need of a special unit within its armed forces to conduct ‘off the books’ missions to support national interests and security. Major Jack Roberts, who had served as an observer during the partition of Vietnam following World War II, was selected to command and train this special unit.
Roberts chose as the first members of his team, a group of diverse young men and a beautiful and patriotic young Vietnamese woman, and trained them on an isolated island.
Men With a Mission by Gordon Smith is the story of Roberts’ activities from the beginning of what we know as the Vietnam War through the immediate post-war period. It addressed the increasing American involvement and the problems faced by the Western allies as they struggled to deal with a culture and war they failed to understand. Incidents of misbehavior of US-backed forces in Vietnam, the actions leading up to the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia, and the ‘secret’ war in Laos are all presented with rich detail. Against this backdrop of cultural misunderstanding, political corruption, and the long war, the team’s activities, and their subsequent history unfold.
While the theme of the book is somewhat epic, and extremely educational, the fact that it’s presented as semi-fictional (I found it hard to distinguish fact from fiction), it suffers from the ‘telling’ of the story rather than ‘showing’ the reader what happened through the dialogue and actions of the protagonists. Some of the most moving incidents, for example, lose a lot of their impact due to the lack of a ‘personal’ focus that would come from them being portrayed through the eyes of those involved.
Done in a more action-oriented style, this book could easily be transformed into a movie in the style of ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ or ‘Apocalypse Now.’ The author has a good command of the language, and has obviously done a lot of research—having served as a soldier in the war during the 60s and 70s, and a diplomat in China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia from 1983 to 2005, I can attest to the accuracy of many of the incidents portrayed. Changing the style of presentation would make this not just an interesting book, but one that would fill many of the gaps in the history of the region and its conflicts that currently exist.
I received a free copy of this book. While I give it high marks for the theme and research that went into it, the excessive ‘telling,’ forces me to give it three stars. I hasten to add, however, that this is an author with great promise, and look forward to reading future offerings.

Review of ‘Picture Miss Seeton’

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Miss Seeton, a retired art teacher, after seeing a performance of ‘Carmen,’ witnesses a real-life stabbing. When she jabs the assailant with her umbrella, he turns and pushes her down, but in that instant flash of sight, she sees enough to enable her to do a very realistic sketch which helps the police establish his identity. It also puts Miss Seeton in the killer’s sights.

Picture Miss Seeton by the late Heron Carvic is a dry-British-humor cozy mystery a la “Miss Marple,’ with a very proper British spinster who, with her umbrella and sketch pad, is able to solve the crimes that puzzle Scotland Yard. The dialogue and observations of very proper upper-class English manners will keep you chuckling from start to finish. Miss Seeton is a heroine to keep an eye out for.

Five stars.

Review of ‘The Crime Gene’

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Jeannie Gee is a Vegas wedding photographer with a dysfunctional family—a forensics-obsessed mother and over-large older brothers who are always in trouble with the police. Against her better judgment, she accepts a last-minute request to videotape a wedding in a hotel room. Her better judgment proves right, when she arrives and finds a room that’s empty except for the bloodstains all over the place. When the corpse turns up later at her place of residence, she and the police know that this is no coincidence. Jeannie is being targeted by people from her family’s New Jersey past.

The Crime Gene by Joyce Nance is funny, tongue-in-cheek mystery with an eclectic—though somewhat loopy—cast of characters. A delightful, somewhat flawed, female main character, and a smorgasbord of supporting characters. It’ll keep you laughing.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Afterburn’

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Five years after a massive solar storm has destroyed human civilization and spawned a race of mutants, called Zaps, Rachel Wheeler, herself half-mutant, and her mismatched family, barely clinging to existence in an abandoned military bunker, are faced with a fateful choice. Do they continue hiding out, or do they seek other humans in an effort to rebuild some semblance of human society.

The problems they face are tremendous. The Zaps have concentrated in major cities, and seem to have evolved into a society of sorts, radiation has created monsters on land, sea, and in the air, whose only aim is to feed, and the remnants of the American government have coalesced into a force bent on eliminating the Zaps and retaking earth for humans.

Rachel is faced with a dilemma; should she continue to honor her human side, or become fully mutant?

Afterburn is the first in the post-apocalyptic Next series, which follows Rachel as she fights for survival—of what, she is not certain. The author has created a stunning cast of characters, focusing primarily on the humans, Rachel’s family and the soldiers of the rump government. The Zaps, the principal antagonists in this compelling thriller, are less fully developed, leaving the reader to guess at their motives and abilities—but in such a way as to send chills through your body as you read.

The book ends on a chilling cliff hanger, and the frightening thought—what next?

An interesting beginning to a depressing and frightening look at what could be. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Third Breath’

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FBI Special Agent Shawn Cleary is trying to convince her superiors that a series of assumed suicides are actually acts of murder by some vast conspiracy. In the meantime, a deadly and often fatal disease breaks out in widely separated locations around the country. The FBI taps Shawn’s best friend, medical researcher Jaimie Carpenter to identify the super bug behind the outbreak.

Working together, the two women become involved in a conspiracy beyond anything they’d imagined. A drug company CEO who puts profit and position above anything, a serial killer with an ambitious agenda, and a shadowy organization, ‘The Protectors,’ that is taking the law into its own hands and eliminating terrorist and criminal threats extrajudicially. To further complicate matters, Jaimie is paired with a handsome FBI agent in an undercover operation, and the sparks that fly between them threaten not only to derail the mission, but puts them in jeopardy.

Third Breath by Patricia Clark is an exquisitely-written medical thriller, and the author uses her medical knowledge to add to the suspense—but, it’s not the technical aspects of this story that truly entertain. Ms. Clark uses the interpersonal dynamics, whether it’s sexual tension between Jaimie and her partner, or a wife’s reaction to being beaten by her abusive husband, to advance the story, and explain character motivation and action, and it’s these moments of conflict between characters that is the strong point of the book. In fact, about midway through, the search for an antidote to the superbug becomes secondary to catching the bad guys and eluding the deadly tentacles of The Protectors.

This is a book that, once you start reading, you won’t be able to put down. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Adored by the Alpha Bear’

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Alice Lenore is a popular romance writer, but she’s unable to deal with the real thing. She hires a housekeeper to help out around her house, but when it turns out to be Luka Oxendine, a hunk of a man, who also happens to be a bear shape shifter, her life is turned upside down and inside out.
Adored by the Alpha Bear by K.T. Stryker is a paranormal romance mystery comedy farce, and if you think that’s a mouthful, you have to read the story. Alice is adorable as a slightly klutzy, dysfunctional protagonist, while Luka is conflicted in his role as alpha male who finds himself in love with the apparently (but not really) weak heroine. The rest of the characters are not quite as fully developed, and their fates are left undetermined for the most part, but the story’s worth reading for Alice and Lukas’s parts.
I received a free copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War’

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Edward J. Lowell, an American lawyer and historian with an interest in German participation as mercenaries in the American Revolution, published a book on that involvement in 1884. He outlined the practice, common during the period, of the princes of the German principalities of supplying fighting men to the other European powers—among them, England, which was one of the main customers for such services. The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War by Edward J. Lowell, has been reprinted in e-book format, making it accessible to today’s readers.

Originally a series of letters, this book explores the historical background, beginning with the fact that Germany at the time was not a unified nation, but rather a loose collection of independent entities, and exploring in detail the German participation in America’s war for independence from Britain.
Written in the linguist style of the period, Lowell’s book gives the previously untold story of the dreaded Hessians, and their failures and successes in the war. An interesting bit of trivia, for example; while the term Hessian was applied to all German auxiliaries, only a portion of the foreign troops were from Hesse-Cassel, but the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, was one of the most formidable of the suppliers of mercenary troops, and thus, the name was applied to all, regardless of their true origin.

For readers interested in the Revolutionary period, this book puts a human face on the war, providing details that are often lacking in standard histories of the period. It should be required reading for any student of history, and is highly recommended to anyone who wants to know more about the evolution of current American-European relations.

I received a free copy of the book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Yes! I Said No!’

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For the individual who feels overwhelmed by life, who finds things spiraling out of control, the cure is simple; learn to say NO. Yes! I Said No! by Barbra E. Russell is a very short book—as short, in fact, as the word ‘no,’ that can help you learn to set appropriate boundaries and increase your sense of self-worth and self-esteem. The author, a licensed professional counselor, outlines a series of simple steps that can be followed that will allow you to regain control of your own life, without necessarily alienating those around you.

Unlike many books on the subject of self-improvement and time management, there are no complicated procedures or exercises here. Instead, the author offers a few simple exercises that involve self-exploration, and learning how to say ‘no’ without being unnecessarily negative.

You can finish this book in under an hour, and it will be an hour well spent. I received a free paperback copy of the book, and highly recommend it.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Stem’

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When the people of their community of New Hanoi are massacred, Rome and Mae escape to the Kingdom to spread the word and get revenge. They are working against the clock, though, because the pollen the controllers use on the workers, when it wears off, causes them to die. With two weeks left to live, they must find allies to help them liberate their home, and save those who are left.

Stem by Aaron ‘A.D.’ Lamb is a dystopian post-apocalyptic novel that takes a different spin than others in the genre. First, the setting, rather than the industrialized world, is Southeast Asia, where the locals have survived the apocalypse, and are having to deal with Western refugees. The characters and setting possess colorful credibility, and the theme is just plausible. An enjoyable book, despite the gloomy theme.

The book had some serious formatting problems, especially in the last half. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘A Scone to Die For’

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Gemma Rose’s tearoom, in a little village near Oxford University, is doing well, until an American tourist is found in it, choked to death by a scone. With her establishment shut down as a crime scene, and the police suspecting members of her staff—among others—as possible murderers, Gemma must find the real killer, or face ruin. With the help of the Old Biddies, a cabal of elderly ladies addicted to snooping in police investigations, an old college love who is now a CID detective, and a peripatetic cat named Muesli, Gemma pulls out all the stops, exposing herself to the killer in the process.
A Scone to Die For by H. Y. Hanna is a light cozy done in traditional British style, with dashes of humor, that is a delightfully entertaining read. Plenty of false clues and daring escapades will keep you turning pages.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Secrets of the Asylum’

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After the disappearance of her two-year-old son, Elizabeth is committed by her husband to an asylum. Fifteen years later, her daughter, Meg, returns to Traverse City, MI from Chicago, after a breakup with her fiancé, hoping to discover if her mother is really insane, and what happened to her brother. She finds an unlikely ally, Abby, a Chippewa spirit woman, and begins a journey that will change her life, and the lives of those around her, forever.

Secrets of the Asylum by Linda Hughes is a slow-paced, but chilling, tale of life in the age of the Flapper. Like the peeling of an onion, it lays bare family secrets and lies in the context of an era when women had no identity separate from their husbands or fathers, and when the line between sanity and insanity was exceptionally thin, and social mores were in transition.

This book reads like a cross between a generational saga and a finely tuned mystery, as Meg slowly discovers family secrets that have been kept hidden far too long. The author does an amazing job of providing just enough information to cause a reader to begin to see the truth behind the murky veil that circumstances have thrown up, and will be shocked at the denouement.

A disturbing, but entertaining and enlightening, read. I received a free copy of this book.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘The Solid-State Shuffle’

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A global seismic event has reshaped earth’s coastlines; whole cities and even some countries are underwater. When authorities ban salvage of the sunken cities, a new profession arises, underwater reclamation specialists—scavengers.

When Isa Schmidt and her crew, on their first major job in the Seattle area, find an item in a sunken bank vault, they know they have something valuable and important, they just don’t know what it is. Moreover, the item belongs to Seattle’s crime boss, and he wants it back, along with the head of whoever took it. Isa must figure a way to return the stolen item without being identified as the thief, a quest complicated by the fact that there are people who want to depose the crime boss, and use her as the patsy in the process.

The Solid-State Shuffle by Jeffrey A. Ballard is a hilarious piece of post-apocalyptic fiction that will have you in stitches as you follow Isa and her team in their sometimes bumbling efforts to return a stolen article, unmask the true villains, and stay alive. There are bits of violence, and the language is salty, but mostly, it’s just a pleasant, and rib-tickling read.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘The Savannah Project’

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When NTSB investigator Jake Pendleton is sent from Atlanta to investigate an air crash, what looked at first like a run-of-the-mill mishap turns out to be anything but. When more people start turning up dead, Jake realizes that there is a vicious killer on the loose, and Jake just might be his next target. When he suggests boss that the crash might not have been an accident after all, he’s rebuffed. With the help of an unconventional air traffic controller, Jake undertakes his own investigation, uncovering deception and intrigue on an international level, and putting himself and those around him in mortal danger.

The Savannah Project by Chuck Barrett is a thriller that will keep you intrigued from start to finish. Light, thankfully, on the technical aspects, it focuses on the personal motivations of the characters, and the action when opposing forces meet. The ending will take your breath away.

This is the first book in a planned series, and I’ll be watching for sequels.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Missy the Werecat’

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At the age of thirteen, while away at soccer camp, Missy experienced a dramatic ‘change.’ The onset of puberty triggered genes within her, transforming her into a mountain lion. Afraid of possible danger to her family or others, she ran away into the mountains, where, for two years, she learned to deal with the change, and developed the ability to switch between human and cat at will.

On the way back home, Missy came to the attention of the authorities when she staged a dramatic, almost unbelievable rescue of a family trapped in a wrecked car. Doctors learned that, despite potentially life-threatening injuries, she had an amazing ability to heal, and the FBI agent who had been investigating her disappearance believed she’d been abducted, had somehow killed her abductor, and was unwilling to provide the details because of the trauma.

Reunited with her family, Missy begins to develop her skills, and uses them to help others, including going up against a notorious crime boss. All the while, the FBI’s Paranormal Division is keeping an eye on her.

Missy the Werecat by P. G. Allison is a charming story; a mystery with violence and death, but also with interesting touches of humor. While the theme, a strong female character able to hold her own against all comers, is fascinating, there is entirely too much ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing,’ especially in the first half of the book. This is definitely movie material, a la ‘Cat Woman,’ but the book would be infinitely better if there were more showing of Missy’s transformation, rather than straight narrative ‘telling.’

The author gets high marks for the theme, but the excessive telling forces me to drop the rating to three stars.

Review of ‘Tabloid’

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Belinda Masters was at the top of her game, editor-in-chief of a prestigious London paper, when she was toppled by a scandal, and forced to return home to New York in disgrace. Now, working for a tabloid, she spends her time writing puff pieces, and looking for that one story that will resuscitate her reputation.

When the body of a young girl is found floating in the river, Belinda sees her chance. But, as she investigates the story, she finds herself in the crosshairs of a vicious serial killer who kidnaps her. After she’s rescued, though, her troubles are only beginning. Now, she’s targeted by corrupt politicians and businessmen who will do anything to keep the tap of federal money flowing into their pockets. Even with a friend on the NYPD, she is overwhelmed, and has to get to the bottom of the story, or die trying.

Tabloid by Robin Masters is an engrossing thriller from start to finish. The author paints a grim picture of the dark underbelly of a city when politics and money cross paths. An engaging cast of characters, and a story that will keep you turning the pages.

This one’s a five-star read.

Review of ‘Dead Still’

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Annabel Tillson, a third-year medical student is starting her clinical rotation. Her first stop is the surgery ward, where she initially finds it difficult to live up to her neurosurgeon father’s stellar reputation, and one of the medical residents has an intense dislike of her. Then, patients start dying within 24 hours of uncomplicated surgical procedures. Annabel suspects there is some commonality among the deceased, and, with the help of a resident from another specialty, undertakes her own investigation.

Dead Still by Barbara Ebel is a stunning medical mystery that, unlike other mysteries, doesn’t have a human antagonist. Nonetheless, it has a human villain who complicates Annabel’s already complicated life. The author displays her extensive medical knowledge, mostly through dialogue, perhaps more than really necessary, but it is still a compelling read. After reading this book, the reader is likely to think twice before going to hospital, even for a simple procedure. The characters are all fully fleshed out, the setting is intense, and the plot is well crafted.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Edge of Revolt’

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King David is getting old, and must face the inevitability of his demise. His eldest son Amnon is next in line to the throne, but when he rapes his half-sister, Tamar, David, though shocked, remains silent. Then, Tamar’s brother, Absalom, lures Amnon to his death. David still remains silent, even though these events have rocked the kingdom. When Absalom moves to oust him from the throne, David is forced to flee, setting in motion a chain of events that will rock Israel to its roots.

The Edge of Revolt by Uvi Poznansky is the third book in the series about David, slayer of Goliath and king of the Israelites. In David’s own words, the story of palace intrigue and family betrayal is chillingly told. This one stands on its own.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Shocking True Story’

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True crime writer Kevin Ryan is in need of something ‘over the top’ for his next book in order to boost his sales. When Jett Carter shows up at his door with a heart-wrenching tale of her mother and sister, in prison for a crime, she says, they didn’t commit, he sees his chance.

Things begin to go off the rails, though, when his number-one fan ends up dead, and as he begins to write the story of clumsily executed attempted murders, real bodies start piling up. When he’s implicated in one, things really start to go south, forcing him to reevaluate his priorities.

Shocking True Story by Gregg Olsen reads like a true crime story, with completely believable characters doing unbelievable things, in a well-described setting. The author keeps you the reader in suspense until the shocking, and totally unexpected conclusion.

Snippets of humor, some, tongue in cheek, some a bit over the top, merge seamlessly with shocking revelations at Kevin inches his way closer and closer to a truth he’s unprepared for.

This one kept my attention from page one. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Gifted’

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Jake Bronson has a special gift; he’s able to link into the thoughts and emotions of others, and it was this gift that enabled him to defeat the alien pyramids that were designed to rid the earth of humanity. In an effort to avoid public knowledge of his ability, and the role he played in saving the earth, and to protect his family, he works unheralded in a VA research facility in California. Each member of his family has vestiges of the ‘gift,’ but his younger son, Alex, has abilities that outstrip them all.

When an old friend warns him that someone is after him, at the same time that Alex’s ability is exposed at the VA hospital, the family declares an emergency, and makes plans to flee. They are separated, though, and Alex and his two siblings, are kidnapped. They find themselves in a plane, flying toward China, along with one of their father’s friends, and learn that their mother—and maybe their father as well—have also been taken. Using their powers, and a lot of grit and luck, they escape their kidnappers, only to find themselves stranded in the wilds of China’s deep forests, in in the middle of a drug lord’s territory. There, they find strange allies to aid them in their quest to find and rescue their parents.

Gifted by Richard Bard is a short prequel to his ‘Brainrush’ series, that sets up a chilling story of their efforts to retrieve their parents, with the help of a defrocked Chinese monk, once a member of an ancient warrior monk culture.

While I think it could’ve used a bit more detail in places, it’s nonetheless a well-crafted story, filled with action and intrigue, and sets the reader up for the series relatively well.

I give this one four stars.