Review of ‘Speechless’

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When Detective Inspector John Marco of the Wales Police Service in Cardiff gets an early morning call about a body found in the river, he thinks it’s a routine drowning. But, when it’s discovered that the body has had its tongue removed, he realizes that it’s anything but routine. When another body is found with the tongue removed, Marco finds himself up to his hips in a case involving the close-mouthed and thoroughly intimidated Polish community in Cardiff, prostitution and human trafficking.

Speechless by Stephen Puleston is a riveting crime story that takes the reader from the seamy underworld of Cardiff’s working class neighborhoods to the posh mansions of the city’s upper crust, and then to the dangerous back streets of Warsaw, as Marco chases a merciless criminal whose trademark is removing the tongues of his victims. At the same time, he has to navigate the perilous bureaucratic waters of his own department and his own personal demons.

Crime drama at its best, with some of the strongest character development I’ve seen in the genre since Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels. I give Speechless four stars.

Review of ‘Corrupt Skies’

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Air Marshal Harris Fox is burned out. Moving from the Baltimore PD to the Air Marshal Service to please his wife didn’t work—she still divorced him. He’s now frustrated because the demands of his job cut into the time he has to spend with his daughter. When a string of robberies that the FBI think are being conducted by a crew flying from city to city causes him to be put under cover to surveil a suspected crew, Fox’s life takes another drastic turn. The first assignment turns out to be a bust, but he gets a clue that leads him to suspect that Trenton Quinn, a fellow air marshal, is involved. What follows is a tense drama, leading to a final deadly confrontation at an isolated cabin in the woods.

Corrupt Skies: Episode 1 by Alex Rodgers is a serial centered around the main character, Harris Fox, and the mysterious Micah, who is introduced, but not identified as a bad guy until he kidnaps Fox’s ex-wife and daughter and sends Fox a cryptic message that has him off on another thrilling adventure.

I’m not usually a fan of serial novels that end on an unresolved cliff hanger, but I’m willing to make an exception in this case. Written in tightly written scenes, much like a TV series, this story will suck you in and leave you panting in anticipation of the next episode. I’ll give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Oliver and Jumpy: 31-33’

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Oliver and Jumpy: 31-33 by Werner Stejskal is another fascinating romp with Oliver the elegant tomcat and his friend, Jumpy the kangaroo. An excellent book to read to youngsters, this one has three new adventures. In the first, the crockery comes alive and has a fancy party for Oliver and his friends. It’s followed by a hair-raising adventure when Oliver and friends go boating and encounter a hungry shark, and finally, Oliver becomes tiny and explores the world of the garden.

Colorful illustrations and captivating stories will keep your young ones wanting to hear more.

Another five-star book from Stejskal.

Review of ‘A Ghost for Christmas’

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Mele Keahi lost her job and her boyfriend, and she’s relocated to Destiny Bay, to the home of her Aunt Bebe, to decompress. All she wants is peace and quiet, but instead, she finds murder. She trips over the body of a man, murdered on her aunt’s doorstep, upon arrival. The local police have a long list of suspects, including Aunt Bebe, and Mele, and it’s up to her to find the real killer before the wrong person is charged.

In her quest to solve the case, in addition to her own investigative skills, Mele has help from a ghost from her Hawaiian past and a strange apparition that stalks her aunt’s garden.

A Ghost for Christmas by J.D. Winters is a sterling cozy mystery, with hints of romance—expected, since the author is a noted romance author—and healthy doses of mystery and paranormal phenomena. You’ll be tickled and tense from start to finish as Mele stumbles her way to a stunning conclusion.

It has a few typos that need fixing, but I give it four stars for chutzpah.

Review of ‘Social Media Monsters: True Stories of Internet Killers’

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Social Media Monsters: True Stories of Internet Killers by R. J. Parker and J. J. Slate is a compendium of 33 stories about monsters who use the Internet to locate, lure, stalk, and exploit their victims. Many of these stories are about serial killers who have been with us for a long time, but who are now able to use the efficiency of social media sites and chat rooms to lure their victims to their deaths. The book also includes sections on how law enforcement is now using the Internet in their effort to solve, and even prevent, criminal activity, and a useful section on effective ways to protect yourself when using the Internet.

A compelling read that exposes an area of criminality that knows no boundaries, and which no one is safe from. After reading this book, you’ll think twice about accepting that ‘Friend’ request from a stranger. Must-reading for anyone who uses the Internet.

This is an easy five-star book.

Review of ‘Murder in Nice’

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When Maggie Newberry’s old high school friend is murdered while on a trip to the Cote d’Azur while auditioning for an American TV show, she’s forced to leave her cozy life in a little French village to find the killer to keep an innocent man from being saddled with the crime.

Murder in Nice by Susan Kleman-Lewis is a neat little cozy mystery, with a bit more action and adventure than is usually found in this sub-genre—all to the good. Maggie Newberry is no Kinsey Milhone, but I like her anyway, and hat’s off to Kleman-Lewis for introducing a new and vibrant character to mystery lovers.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Green Grow the Rashes’

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Transplanted Scot, William Meikle—now residing in Canada—is, in my view, the 21st century version of Edgar Allan Poe. No, he’s not a drug addict, at least not as far as I know, but the stories he churns out would make a drug addict quit cold turkey. Even when he writes humor, his stuff is downright scary. The collection of short stories in Green Grow the Rashes is no exception. From a down-at-the-heels singer who sees a green ghost, to the ‘thing’ hiding in the banana boat, Meikle conjures up some of the weirdest, scariest, and absolutely entertaining scenarios. If you like your short fiction with an edge, check this one out. I give this collection four stars.

Review of ‘Oliver and Jumpy: 22-24’

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For some reason, I read Oliver and Jumpy: Stories 22-24 by Werner Stejskal, which I received free in exchange for my review, in August, but neglected to write that review. Probably just old age and senility. Like the other books in this series, this is three neat little stories of Oliver the elegant tom cat and his friend, Jumpy the kangaroo, and the adventures they get up to. Elegantly illustrated, these stories are a hit with my grandchildren, and I’m certain for kids anywhere.

From Oliver’s train journey to his fishing trip with Jumpy, they not only entertain, but contained subtly within them are good life lessons for kids.  My apologies for the delayed review, and thanks for another great book. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘1066: What Fates Impose’

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When King Edward refuses to name an heir to the throne before he dies, England is thrown into crisis. Various nobles contend violently for control, and England is threatened from external enemies.

1066: What Fates Impose by G. K. Holloway is a fictional account of events leading up to the 1066 Battle of Hastings, which set the course for England’s history for the next several centuries. It also details the battle itself, in rich and gory detail. This is historical fiction as it should be, detailed but colorful, given not just the chronology of events, but their deeper human meanings. A bit overblown and stuffy in places, it is still a most enjoyable read. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Enfield Horror Trilogy’

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When two friends, out hiking, discover an old lodge deep in the woods near Enfield, they unleash a mystical hunter with a thirst of blood. After a hundred years, the beast, Ka-riu, is now on the hunt, and it’s good at what it does. Rural cop, Tom Henderson, finds himself thrust into a role he’s unprepared for—the savior of his town. With the help of an old farmer, Henderson must go head to head with the ancient Japanese demon, aided in its thirst for blood by the malevolent spirit of the cabin itself. In his hour of greatest challenge, Henderson finds out what he’s really made of.

The Enfield Horror Trilogy by Ron Ripley is a frightening melding of western and oriental myths in a tale that will make you think twice the next time you venture down an unfamiliar trail in the woods. Well-developed characters and a plot that will freeze the blood in your veins, this is horror at its finest.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it four stars without hesitation.

Review of ‘The Blood Contract’

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For two hundred years the Blood Contract has protected the sanctity of the Blood Lands on the border of the town of Thorne. But now, with more economic development in the works, the town aldermen have decided to violate the terms of the contract, and the Bloods, living and dead, aren’t happy.

The Blood Contract Trilogy by Ron Ripley is a chilling tale of what happens when greed overcomes prudence and the ghosts of the Bloods decide a lesson—a deadly lesson—must be taught. New Hampshire state trooper Jim Petrov, with the help of a living Blood, and the ghosts of past Bloods, must face a deadly enemy in order to save the town of Thorne from its own greed and stupidity.

A compelling cast of characters; even the ghosts have interesting personalities, and the tension starts on a high note and climbs into the stratosphere.

This is an unusual ghost story in which it’s hard sometimes to tell the good guys from the bad, but one that you will thoroughly enjoy reading.

I received a free copy of The Blood Contract in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Loonies’

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Smoky Hollow, NH is a quiet town until newcomer Brian Keays, the town’s new newspaper editor, opens a trunk in his attic and discovers its grisly contents. Keays then finds himself chasing and being chased by an astonishingly odd cast of characters, from a firefighter ventriloquist with a mad dummy, to a sleep walker who ends up with strange things in his pockets. Death and destruction dogs his every step.

Loonies by Gregory Bastianelli is a thriller-mystery that lives up to its name—it’s filled with looney characters and weird situations, and will keep you guessing and gasping until the end.

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

Review of ‘Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates’

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Less than 50 years after it gained its independence from Britain, the new American nation faced a crisis. The Barbary states of North Africa preyed upon shipping, taking crews captive and demanding ransom payments and tribute that threatened the infant American economy.

Unsuccessful in its efforts to deal with the pirates through diplomacy, and unable to make the demands for even higher tributes and ransom, Thomas Jefferson, soon after gaining the presidency, chose to demonstrate the new country’s might, and convinced congress to authorize raising a navy and employing it to demonstrate that Americans would fight for the right to trade freely around the world.

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Killmeade and Don Yaeger is the story of America’s first war after independence, focusing as much on the unnamed men who fought it at sea and on the ground as on the figures well known in American history. The war against the Barbary pirates is a chapter in American history that gets little notice in history courses, and is largely unknown to most Americans. It is instructive, though, in that it was the first test of the new nation’s prowess, and many aspects of our modern foreign policy grew out of the experiences of this forgotten period of American history.

It reads like a historical thriller, with accounts of those who fought, gleaned from historical documents and journals of people history has largely ignored. A well-constructed book, my only complaint is that the authors display their own lack of full understanding of American diplomatic history in some parts; for instance, John Adams is referred to as the ambassador to Great Britain, when, in fact, the U.S. didn’t post its first ambassador abroad until 1893. A small error that can be forgiven, in view of the fact that most Americans are ignorant of the nuance and detail of American history, but one that the authors or editors should have caught (Adams is correctly identified as minister to Britain in the photo of him inserted in the book. I also took issue with the authors contention that the depredations of the Barbary pirates was based on religion—that they were Muslims was incidental to the fact that they were greedy and like most pirates of that day down to the present were motivated by the desire to profit from preying on those perceived as weak.

These minor irritants aside, this is still an instructive book. It shows the evolution of America’s overseas policy, and the importance of effective leadership, both political and military, in achieving national security and prosperity, and the contributions to our nation that have been made by people whose bravery and innovation in the face of adversity prevails.

I received this book as a gift. I give it four stars.

Suggested reading for Black History Month – Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

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 February is Black History Month, a time when we celebrate the contributions of people of color to the rich tapestry that is the history of the United States. It’s unfortunate that it has taken the establishment of a special month to highlight the role so prominently played at the time of the historical events, but that was later erased from the history books, or at best, downplayed. One of the figures of our historical past who has yet to receive the full acknowledgement due him is Bass Reeves. Reeves was a former slave who spent the years of the Civil War in Indian Territory in Oklahoma. After the war, he returned to his native Arkansas and became a farmer, and sometimes scout for the deputy U.S. marshals traveling into Indian territory in search of fugitives. Even though he could neither read nor write English, Reeves was an expert tracker who spoke six Native American languages, was handy with his fists, and was so proficient with firearms (fired with either hand) he was banned from entering Turkey Shoots in his community. When Isaac Parker was made federal judge for western Arkansas and the Indian Territory by President Grant, he decided to hire black deputy marshals because they would be able to operate easier in Indian territory than white men would. Reeves was one of the men hired, and his exploits for the next 30 years was the stuff of legend. Despite this, popular media and American history has mostly forgotten him, There have been a couple of minor movies and a few books, but few people know that he’s thought to be the model for the popular ‘Lone Ranger’ character of radio, TV and comic books.

Black History Month is a good time to do some reading that helps to set the historical record straight. A few years ago, when I came across information about Reeves while doing research for my Buffalo Soldier series (stories about the black Ninth Cavalry soldiers known as Buffalo Soldiers by their Native American adversaries), I was fascinated, and decided to do a fictionalized account of his activities. That book, Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal, has been one of my more popular books, with consistent month-to-month sales since it was published in 2014, in both paperback and Kindle versions.

Though fiction, it’s historically accurate, and while I’m a bit biased, I also think it’s an entertaining story.

Paperback and Kindle versions of the book are available at the following link which is the Amazon store on my other blog:

 http://charlesaray.blogspot.com/p/shop-at-charlies-store.html

Once there, go to the bottom of the store and click on ‘Page 8.’ The two versions of the book are at the bottom of the page. By clicking on the one you want, you’ll be taken to a page that allows you to purchase the book directly from Amazon.

Some of my other books relating to minorities and their contributions to American history:

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Review of ‘Life is a Beautiful Thing’

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Meme is a human therapist for androids. He’s also a pollution addict. These two things come together when he meets a beautiful android and falls for her, and then finds himself in the crosshairs of a corporate executive who wants him dead.

Harmon Cooper’s Life is a Beautiful Thing is cyberpunk fiction at its grungy best. Part dystopian fiction, part science fiction, and part rant, it will keep you reading and scratching your head. Be warned, though, this book contains strong language and graphic gender groping. If you’re not the overly sensitive type, it will definitely help you get your grove on.

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

Review of ‘Quicker’

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Ell Donsai has a nerve mutation that makes her much quicker than the average human, In addition, she has a way above average intelligence. Her differences make her reluctant to form close relationships. While at the Air Force Academy, she develops an affinity for gymnastics and ends up being selected for the U.S. Olympic team. Shortly thereafter, Ell finds herself in the center of a deadly terrorist plot, and she has to use her amazing speed and intellect, not just to save herself, but to save the people she has come to care for.

A near future sci-fi tale with a strong female main character, Quicker by Laurence Dahners is the first book in a series that I predict will have a long and successful run. Crisp dialogue, lightning fast action, and characters you either love or hate, but cannot ignore, this is the kind of science fiction that should be considered for a SyFy channel series.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Apocalyptic Fears II’

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Apocalyptic Fears II is a collection of 12 tales of the world after things fall apart. The 11 authors featured in this box set are at the top of their game in the indie and small press world, with an assortment of stories of what the world might be like after devastating war, alien invasion, and other assorted tragedies. I’ve already read several of these tales individually, and liked them, but it was nice to have them all together in one place for the time when I feel like binging. It was a treat to re-read such stories as ‘And then There Were Giants,’ by Greg Dragon. This collection of extremely tall tales is a great read for fans of the genre. There is something for every taste, including a zombie western.

Don’t miss out. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Dark Knight: Armchair Analysis’

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‘The Dark Knight,’ second in the trilogy of Batman films, was one of the most critically acclaimed films of the past few years—notably because it was Heath Ledger’s last film before his untimely death. Batman fans have probably killed many hours arguing over the film’s symbolism. In Dark Knight: Armchair Analysis by Film Philos, the author explores the characters and main themes of the movie in depth.

This is an interesting book, with some fascinating takes on the interplay between and among the main and supporting characters, and an excellent exploration of the many contrasting themes in the film. The analysis of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker and the dichotomy of Batman-Bruce Wayne are perhaps the best of all.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review—and, I have to confess that it’s difficult to be totally unbiased, because I’ve been a fan of Batman since reading Batman comics way back in the 50s and 60s. I found myself agreeing with the author’s analyses for the most part—except his view that Rachel, Bruce Wayne’s love interest, was a traditional ‘damsel in distress.’ My own view is that Rachel acted as a catalyst, both for Bruce Wayne and Arthur Dent, in that her death devastated Wayne and tipped Dent to the dark side. I also found a number of grammar errors (e.g., ‘Rachel whom ends up dead’) and misspellings that should have been caught in the proofreading stage. These small errors aside, the book was a great read, and anyone who reads it will have an advantage the next time there’s a Batman confab in the local gin mill.

I give it four stars for an otherwise excellent analysis, grammar and spelling notwithstanding.

Review of ‘The Sixth Shotgun’

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“It is this by which we measure a man, by what he does with his life, by what he creates to leave behind,” – Louis L’Amour. These words describe perhaps better than any the essence of noted western author, Louis L’Amour, the man who set the standard for the western genre.

The Sixth Shotgun by Louis L’Amour, edited by Jon Tuska, contains two of L’Amour’s most famous works, the short work from which the book gets its title, ‘The Sixth Shotgun,’ a tale about a stagecoach robbery and frontier justice, that details in pithy passages the course of justice in many frontier towns of the Old West. The longer work, ‘The Riders of the Ruby Hills,’ is one of L’Amour’s typical range war novels, with lone hero, Ross Haney, facing off against gangs of killers and ne’er-do-wells, while contending for the hand of the fair maiden.

For fans of westerns, Tuska’s editorial notes, giving L’Amour’s biography and discussing his writing style, are fascinating. The fact, for instance, that L’Amour’s novels were often written in first draft with no editing before publication, leading to inconsistencies and errors, was something I was not aware of. Especially considering that the short stories he wrote for pulp magazines were strenuously edited. That said, L’Amour’s stories still stand the test of time. They are full of action, vivid descriptions, as well as his trademark hard-nosed philosophy.

This one is a must-read for western fans. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Last Call’

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Approaching 40, Bill Travis is unmarried and has no serious attachments. His job is helping people move money—not money laundering, he’ll be quick to state, just putting where it needs to be. When Julie Simmons walks into his office and asks for his help, while at the same time telling him he should run as far away from her as he can because her middle name is Trouble, his curiosity gets the better of him.

Travis treks across North Texas with Julie, his friend Hank Sterling, a Vietnam vet with a penchant for explosives and a dangerous secret, to retrieve a missing child and two million dollars, all the while dodging the law and Archie Carpin, the last of a criminal dynasty, who is willing to kill to get the money back that Julie stole from him.

The Last Call by George Wier is a fast-paced thriller that combines the author’s knowledge of the underside of the Lone Star State with a perceptive understanding of the things that motivate people. Oh, and lest I forget, a fantastic way with the English language. Wier’s characters, including the setting itself, come alive on the page.

I look forward to reading future Travis adventures. This one gets five stars.