Review of ‘Forensic Analysis and DNA in Criminal Investigations’

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Fans of the CSI TV series and other popular cop shows probably think that forensic analysis of crime scenes is something new, a 20th century innovation in police work. In fact, examining trace evidence dates back to the ancient Greeks and Chinese. It was only with the discovery of DNA that police forensic work became as pervasive, and sometimes accurate tool for solving crimes, or proving innocence.

Forensic Analysis and DNA in Criminal Investigations by R. J. Parker and Pete Vronsky is an examination of forensics, with extensive chapters on the ancient history of criminal investigation. Most of the book, though, focuses on the use of DNA to catch the guilty and free the innocent. The authors trace forensics from its ancient roots, looking at methods that were groundbreaking, and some that were tantamount to torture, moving to the current era and the use of DNA in crime scene forensics. In addition to pointing out its value, they also discuss failures.

Several sections are devoted to cold cases, some solved through analysis of DNA trace evidence. This is a fascinating book for anyone interested in studying criminal cases, or for understanding how criminal investigations are conducted. Technical terms are explained in laymen’s terms. I assure you that you’ll come away from reading this book with a better understanding of how crimes are investigated—and, it’s not like on TV.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Sting’

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Shaw Kennard has been hired to kill Jordie Bennet, but when they meet in a low-life bar along the bayou, sparks fly. Instead of killing her, he abducts her and begins an intense, and dangerous, negotiation with the gangster who wants her dead—her life in exchange for a rather large sum of money. Shaw and Jordie find themselves racing to stay one step ahead of the gangster and the FBI in Sting by Sandra Brown, a thrill-a-minute suspense tale that provides richly delineated characters and a Fodor’s Guide tour of the backwater bayou country. Brown drills deep inside the characters’ emotions and desires, and coaxes out a story that will keep you reading. Some of the blurbs bill this as a romantic mystery, but take my word for it, this isn’t chick-lit. Sure, there are a few love scenes and somewhat tender moments, but this is gritty fiction that’ll please any mystery fan.

I received this book as a gift. Five stars to Sting, six stars to the person who gave me the book.

Review of ‘Oliver and Jumpy: 52-54’

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Oliver, the elegant tom cat who ‘loves himself,’ is back with his friend Jumpy the kangaroo in three interesting little adventures for little readers—or little ones who like to be read to. In Oliver and Jumpy: 52-54 by Werner Stejskal, Oliver has to babysit for his sister while she goes to the hospital to have another kitten—a job he finds he’s hardly prepared for. Then, when Oliver spots a strange plume of smoke out at sea, he and his friends go to explore, and he finds himself taken captive to teach the chief’s son, of all things, English. In the final story, which is a bit confusing to me, we follow a raindrop from its origin in the sky to Oliver’s drinking glass, where it asks to be swallowed. While the first two stories teach useful lessons, I had a bit of a start at the third one; not sure how I’ll explain that one to my grandchildren. The illustrations, as usual, are superb, and the morals of the first two stories are useful lessons for any age. Maybe the moral of the third story is that everything has a purpose to fulfill; I’m just not sure. This is the first time I’ve found anything critical to say about this series, which are still great for entertaining small ones, and teaching them useful life lessons in the process.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give this one three and a half stars only because of that last, somewhat troubling story.

Review of ‘Lassiter’

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When Jake Lassiter was a football player, he’d failed to protect a young girl, Krista Larkin, who attended his birthday party, instead, sending her back to possible danger. Now, 18 years later, her younger sister, Amy, is in Miami trying to determine her sister’s fate. Wracked by guilt, Jake, now a lawyer with a reputation for out-of-the-box legal maneuvers, is determined to punish the men who hurt Krista, even if he has to fight all the top dogs of Miami’s elite society to do it.

The eighth in the Jake Lassiter series by Paul Levine, Lassiter, follows football pro turned attorney Jake Lassiter as he deals with low-life thugs, crooked officials, and aged mobsters in his search to determine the fate of Krista. When one of the suspects, a geriatric mobster, is gunned down, and Amy is arrested for the murder, Jake finds the stakes have risen, maybe higher than he can cover—but, he’s not one to quit.

Gritty courtroom drama set in sunny Florida a la Elmore Leonard, you’ll be richly surprised at the outcome of Jake’s quest for redemption. You’ll be rooting for the good guys, surprised when they turn out to be bad guys, and wondering if there is any difference. A breathtaking romp through the slimy underbelly of Florida politics.

Five stars.

Review of ‘Catalyst Moon: Incursion’

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In Aredia, magic is feared, and specially-protected sentinels keep mages, those capable of wielding magic, under strict control. Kali, a young mage, crippled from birth, is on her way to get special medical treatment. She is under the watchful eye of a company of sentinels, among them, Stonewall, a man sworn to protect Aredia from the very magic that Kali possesses. When they’re attacked by demon-possessed bandits, Kali uses her magic to whisk herself and Stonewall away from danger. In the meantime, those mages still under guard are moving to gain their freedom, precipitating a conflict with their sentinel guards. Kali and Stonewall must learn to trust each other despite the gulf that separates them, if they are to survive.

Catalyst Moon: Incursion by Laurel C. Garcia is an interesting story as it moves among the characters, exploring their backgrounds and motivations, in a riveting story that moves like an avalanche toward an explosive confrontation. The author takes us inside the minds of the characters as they contend with the cataclysmic changes occurring in their world, and we watch the slow process of learning to respect differences unfold. This is a hard book to categorize; it’s a paranormal adventure, a love story, and a thriller that offers enlightenment in the complexities of interpersonal relations and power politics.

Once you start reading, it’s almost impossible to put it down until you reach the end; and it leaves you wondering—what next for Kali and Stonewall?

This one gets four stars.

Review of ‘End of Watch’

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Retired police detective, Bill Hodges, the public hero who helped bring the Mercedes Killer down, runs a detective agency, Finders Keepers, with his partner, Holly Gibney, the one who whacked killer, Bradley Hartsfield, giving him a brain injury which has consigned him to the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic for the past five years in a vegetative state, which the doctors say he will never recover from. Hartsfield, though, has developed strange powers that enable him to create havoc without his body leaving the clinic. When people associated with the Mercedes incident begin committing suicide, Hodges and Gibney suspect that Hartsfield is somehow behind it, but are unable to get the authorities to take them seriously. It’s left to the two of them, aided by Hodges’ friend, Jerome Robinson, and his sister, Barbara, to stop Hartsfield before he initiates an epidemic of suicide.

End of Watch by Stephen King is the third, and final, offering in the Bill Hodges Trilogy. It combines King’s signature supernatural horror writing with some first-rate detective work in a thriller that will chill your blood. King gets inside the minds of the characters, and creates a scenario that rivals Carrie and Salem’s Lot in the way he weaves the supernatural into everyday events. This mind-spinning finale to the trilogy will grab you by the throat and shake you like a terrier shakes a rat, leaving you breathless. No one, and I mean, no one, does horror like King.

In the first of the series, King kept to the mystery element, introducing a hint of the paranormal in the second. In this one, he pulled out all the stops, and wrote a book that defies classification, and redefined the genre.

I received this book as a gift.

King hit a home run with this one. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Wanna Get Lucky?’

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When a young woman plunges to her death from a tour helicopter and lands in the middle of a casino’s outdoor show, everyone writes h er off as just another ‘Vegas’ casualty. Not so Lucky O’Toole, customer relations manager for the Babylon Casino—she suspects foul play. Despite having a killer schedule, Lucky sets out to find out what actually happened. Central to her investigation is Paxton Dane, a newly hired member of Babylon’s security office, but he seems to be holding something back, and is always showing up at the strangest times and places. As if the investigation and her work aren’t enough, she has to deal with her enigmatic boss, a mother who runs a brothel, and a neighbor, a female impersonator, who wants their friendship taken to another, more intimate level.

Wanna Get Lucky? By Deborah Coonts is a suspenseful, but rollicking, romp through the hedonistic playground that is Las Vegas, and lays to rest the old chestnut, ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. The author paints a vivid picture of the people and the place, weaving humor into deadly events with masterful skill. After reading this, you’ll never think of Vegas in the same way again.

I give this first book in the series four stars. I’m sure it can only get better.

Review of ‘Eleven’

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Brandon Fisher always wanted to be an FBI agent. He’s achieved his dream, and is now a probationer in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, under the tutelage of Supervisory Special Agent Jack Harper, something of a legend within the bureau. Their first case together involves the discovery of ten corpses and eleven graves in an underground crypt under a trailer in Salt Like, Kentucky. The method of murder and burial arrangements, along with the one empty grave, mark this as an unusual case; made even more unusual because the owner of the trailer is currently in prison for assault.

Fisher and his team have to deal with the close-knit sense of community in a small town, and the devious nature of Lance Bingham, a man they know is the killer, but who was in prison during at least one of the murders. Bingham then begins playing a game of cat and mouse with Fisher, marking him as the next target.

Eleven by Carolyn Arnold is a tense police procedural that will keep you reading, and guessing, from start to finish, as the FBI, and Fisher, race against time to catch Bingham’s elusive accomplice. Lots of red herrings, false trails, and intense interpersonal encounters, along with a pretty detailed and accurate account of police procedure make this a book that should be on every thriller fan’s to-read list.

I give Arnold five stars for this, the first in the series. She’s off to a great start!

Review of ‘Hemlock: Tales of a Traveler, Book One’

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Martha Bigalow, wanting to get her noxious ex-boyfriend out of her mind, decided to take a hike in the English Lakes District. While crossing a stream, she slipped and fell, and woke up in a cave with a dark stranger who looked like a medieval reenactor gone native. But, Vadim is not a reenactor, he’s an outlaw, and it’s Martha who has gone native; she’s been somehow transported back in time to Erde, a society that’s as alien and unsettling as her life in the twenty-first century had been, with one difference; at least in her time an evil earl wasn’t trying to kill her. The only hope she has of survival and maybe getting back to her own time is to pretend to be Vadim’s wife.

Hemlock: Tales of a Traveler, Book One by N. J. Layouni follows Martha as she learns to adapt to an age where women are lower in the pecking order than the livestock in many cases, and where one false step could be her last. The author pulls off the modern person mysteriously transported to an earlier, less advanced age, with a bit of Mark Twain-style humor, and with tons of action and intrigue. Characters are multi-dimensional and empathy-inducing, and come alive on the page. The medieval theme is maintained by never explaining the mechanism of the time-shift, but a few hints would have been appreciated, as it would set up any sequel—and, there simply must be a sequel, because the story ended on a whale of a cliffhanger.

Except for the unresolved issues: the relationship between Martha and Vadim, what happened to the evil earl, and how Martha came to be transported, it was an interesting and entertaining story. I give ti four stars.

Review of ‘Visceral’

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Mathias Trent is an enforcer for the Corporate Council. He’s been sent to investigate a young nightstalker who has inadvertently created a fiend who poses a threat to corporate control of the world. When the two of them get together, though, and discover that there are efforts to control the ‘ether,’ and not necessarily for the common good, sparks fly.

Visceral by Adam Thielen is a cyberpunk sci-fi story that explores a world where corporate interests exercise almost complete control over everyone—and woe be unto those outside corporate control, for they have large targets on their backs. The author combines elements of sci-fi and social commentary in a thrilling ride through a future that has hints of truth in it. Given the similarity to some real events of the present day, suspending disbelief is an easy task when reading this.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. I give it four stars.

Dig

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“If this rain keeps up,” said Lydia, “I think the garage roof is going to collapse.” “What’s that?”  Miranda was leaning forward. “The garage roof!  It’s sagging in one part.  Every time it rains –…

Source: Dig

Review of ‘Influential Magic’

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In New Orleans, a city filled with vampires, it’s not easy being a faery. Especially when their very existence drains your life force and their touch causes terrible pain. Willow Rhoswen, owner of the Fated Cupcakes bakery, is also a part time vampire hunter, because of her ability to detect vampires. Four years after her twin brother’s murder, Willow’s life is threatened by the presence of a particularly vicious vampire who seems focused on her. Her Aunt Maude, director of operations for the bureau responsible for controlling vampires, assigns her a new partner, her former lover, David. He’s turned into a vampire and signed on as a double agent to help find the vampires who are breaking the rules and threatening order in the city, but Willow’s not sure she trust him, and she certainly can’t stand to touch him any longer.

Forced to work closely with him, she does touch him, and to everyone’s surprise, she converts him into a ‘day walker.’ This skill puts her in even greater danger, forcing her to call upon her brother’s best friend, Talisen, a fae with healing powers. The three of them form a shaky alliance as more and more truth of David’s death and Willow’s ‘special’ abilities come to light.

Influential Magic by Deanna Chase is a paranormal romance thriller that paints the Crescent City in a whole new light. In Chase’s world, nothing is black and white, just ominous shades of gray, with danger lurking behind every corner. The author has created a universe of characters that are quintessentially human even in their decidedly unhuman personas. This story has more twists and turns than an Alpine trail, and the ending is stunning. My only complaint is the way the relationship between Willow and David is left kind of unresolved, but in the end, everyone seems to get just what they deserve. You don’t have to be a fan of either romance or paranormal stories to enjoy this book. It has a little something for everyone, and is a highly entertaining read.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Mr. Mercedes’

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In the chilly, predawn hours in an economically depressed city, hundreds of people are lined up to apply for jobs at the City Center complex. Suddenly, a Mercedes emerges from the fog and plows into the crowd of job seekers, killing 8 and seriously injuring many others. The assailant is never identified.

A year later, retired police detective Bill Hodges receives a taunting missive from the man known as the Mercedes Killer. This was one of the few cases Hodges had been unable to solve before hanging up his badge, and it haunts him. He decides to freelance and go after him.

Brady Hartfield, a cold, calculating sociopath, lives with his alcoholic, manipulative mother. The rush he experienced after using an automobile as a murder weapon, and getting away with it, is unlike anything he’s ever before experienced, and he desperately wants to feel it again.

Hartfield’s need and Hodges desire for closure set the two on a collision course. Cut off from police resources, Hodges must rely on two unusual allies to prevent Hartfield from committing a crime that will make the Mercedes killing look small in comparison.

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King, is book one in the Bill Hodges Trilogy. A taut mystery, without a hint of the supernatural, but with enough tension, action and drama to satisfy the most jaded reader, this book proves that King can write in any genre—and write he does. He takes us inside the minds of two men who are in many ways polar opposites, and in some ways the same; driven. Even though you know who the bad guy is, King’s mastery of the language keeps you guessing as to what happens next until it happens. I read the second book in this trilogy first, and it included a lot of reference to this story, but I was still surprised as events unfolded.

I received this book as a gift. I give it five stars!

Review of ‘Marketing Your Book On Amazon: 21 Things You Can Easily Do For Free To Get More Exposure and Sales’

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Have you written and published a book, but sales are depressing—or nonexistent. Maybe what you need is a way to get readers to notice your book. Marketing Your Book on Amazon: 21 Things You Can Easily Do For Free to Get More Exposure and Sales by Shelley Hitz is a short Kindle book that outlines in easy-to-understand steps a marketing plan for your book, using some of the handy programs on Amazon as well as other social marketing platforms. Hitz shows how authors can use the Amazon Author Page, use keywords effectively to enable more readers to see your book, and many other methods, some well-known to anyone who has published on Amazon’s CreateSpace or Kindle Direct platforms, and others perhaps not so well known.

Along with the handy hints, Hitz has also included in the book a link to a free video tutorial that takes you through the marketing plan—a great tool for the visually oriented learner. While these tips won’t guarantee that you’ll instantly become a bestseller, they will certainly improve your chances of selling more books, and building a following of readers for future books.

If you’ve been struggling to sell your books, this is a worthwhile investment. I’ve used several of the suggestions, and while not all have worked for me, I have seen an increase in book sales over the past several months, so I can say that some of them do work. The one thing that is definite, writing your book is just the first step; marketing it is the essential next step if you want to be read.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Gatekeepers of the Grapevine’

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Elizabeth and Carolyn live in a lush, gated community, Vintner’s Estate, in Cape Town, South Africa. Both have wealthy, connected husbands, but Elizabeth is the self-appointed gatekeeper of the community’s social status, while Carolyn is concealing a devastating secret. Sarah, Elizabeth’s sister, lives outside the estate, but as a talented artist and designer, comes to the attention of new arrivals who hire her to redecorate their mansion.

Elizabeth, upset at the attention Sarah is getting, discovers Carolyn’s secret and exposes it publicly in the most humiliating manner possible. But, she soon learns that her own status is as much a lie as Carolyn’s fabricated past, and her world comes crashing down.

Gatekeepers of the Grapevine by Jane Paterson is a compelling story of the corrosive impact an obsession with position and status can have on human relationships and personal sanity. Along with brilliantly written descriptions of the characters, the author does a superb job of describing the geography and society of South Africa. While no specific dates are given, it is clear that the setting is apartheid South Africa, as only the white and Afrikaner characters are developed to any degree, with black and colored South Africans merely dropped in as minor, and often barely-seen supporting characters. Given the state of the society during that period, and the status of the main characters in this story, that’s understandable, although it would have been nice if at least one nonwhite character had been more than a fleeting shadow.

It was still an entertaining read. As someone who has experienced South Africa (in the 1990s just as apartheid was disintegrating, and from 2009 to 2012) I was impressed with the accuracy of the author’s depictions.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Aurora Skye: Vampire Hunter’

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Eighteen-year-old Aurora Skye only wants one thing, to graduate from high school and get the heck as far away from Alaska as she can. An unfortunate auto accident changes all that. Taken to a nearby military base, where she is given new organs to save her life, it’s discovered that she has special blood—blood that the government can use to combat the plague of vampires infecting our northernmost state. In order to save her daughter, Aurora’s mother signs her over to the government, who, after infecting her with a cocktail of viruses, trains her to be a vampire hunter. With her special blood and the viruses in her body, Aurora can paralyze any vampire who bites her, but she must then kill them herself.

After training, she finds that she can kill, but her new-found commitment is tested to its limits when she discovers that the boy in her high school to whom she’s attracted is a vampire. Love and duty war within Aurora as she becomes ever more proficient in her job. Worse, she’s not sure what she has become.

Aurora Skye: Vampire Hunter by Nikki Jefford, even though it has mostly teens as the principal characters, is not a book for young readers. This is a gritty, in your face story for people who like their action hard core. Characters are believable, even the vampires and witches—yes, it has them too—and the action is bloody. There are a few scenes that are a bit overblown, but given the premise of this story, that’s probably to be expected. At least, it stays away from the old myths about vampires not having reflections or being able to go out during daylight hours, which makes them all the more believable . . . and frightening.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘The Law’

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Tancredi Gilmor is a Scholar, one of the lawgivers of the Tribunal of Ahthaza, the home planet of the Kritas, a race subjugated by humans. When the rules governing the Kritas are tightened and oppression increases, Tancredi finds himself conflicted, as an official he should enforce the rules, but as a human, he has compassion for the oppressed. His conflicted behavior comes to the attention of Mekte, a Krita who is part of the resistance to the humans. When his compassion lands him in trouble with his own bosses, Tancredi finds himself thrust into Mekte’s world.

While the resistance appears to be overwhelmed by the might of the marines sent against them, Tancredi’s presence in their midst changes the equation, drastically.

The Law by Massimo Marino is an epic tale that narrates events that take place in the galactic order that emerged from the author’s Daimones trilogy. Humans and Kritas, while not physically different, are culturally and psychologically as alike as water and fire. The author shows these differences, and the difficulty Tancredi and Mekte face to overcome them, exceptionally well. A cast of amazing characters involved in galaxy-changing events are shown as distinct, uniquely-motivated individuals. Marino’s world building is first rate.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.  I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Blue Water Horizon’

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Alice Trent, fleeing Las Vegas and the mob, ends up in the Florida Keys, specifically, Digger Key, an isolated place with a shabby bar and a few trailers. Owned by the stoic, Stack, a man fleeing his own demons, it doesn’t look on the surface like a welcoming place, but, thanks to Cory Wayne, a young clam digging surfer bum, Alice, now Samantha, just call me Sam, Towne is welcomed and given a job tending bar for Stack.

Paul Grantham, a predatory property developer, has his eyes on Digger Key, and is willing to do anything to get it. What he doesn’t reckon on, though, is that Alice is experienced in surviving on the streets, and is willing to do anything to help her newfound family.

Blue Water Horizon by Glenn Trust is an interesting story that gets deep inside the minds of the characters, bringing them to life as they struggle with challenges, many of them internal. The story switches among the characters, focusing a lot on Alice, but also showing John Barent, a Las Vegas cop who is in love with Alice and wants to know where she is, Grantham, a thoroughly bad character, and a few of the others. Barent’s efforts to track Alice down bring in certain characters in Las Vegas’s underworld, but that thread is never developed. The mob’s interest in her is left unexplained—sad, really, as there was the potential for an exciting confrontation or two in that subplot.

I was left with the feeling that events in the first two books in this series significantly affected events in this, the third one, but those events were only hinted at—for example, her relationship with the man in North Dakota, and a bit more of her personal background would have been, if not helpful, interesting.

All in all, though, it was an interesting read, and I’d like to know more about Alice Trent. Like most of the characters in the book, I was drawn to her like a moth to a flame.

I give this one three and a half stars.

Review of ‘It Takes Two’

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Sydney Rye is in the Amazon; her job is to protect a Texas oilman and his family against whom there have been credible threats. Jet, an enigmatic female assassin is also in the Amazon, and her mission is to kill the oilman. These two determined women are highly-skilled, and possess a fierce determination to do their jobs, but when they finally meet, they sense a connection despite being on opposite sides. Jet succeeds in killing the oilman, and Sydney fails to kill her, even when she had the chance. Now, Sydney’s bosses want her to track Jet down, not to kill her, but to try and hire her for their side.

It Takes Two by Emily Kimelman is a chilling novella about two women who suddenly find themselves allied, even though they are, by their employment, supposed to be enemies. The author packs a lot into a short tale, keeping the reader in suspense until the explosive ending. Strong, well-written female protagonists, operating in a male-dominated profession, Sydney and Jet turn the tables on both their organizations, and do what they think is right rather than what they’ve been ordered to do.

After reading this story, you’ll be hooked on this author and her amazing characters. She takes the world we think we know and turns it upside down and inside out. What’s not to like about that?

I received this book free in exchange for an unbiased review. I give this one four stars.