Review of ‘Broken Elements’

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Aidan Brook is an Elemental, a being who can manipulate the elements with ease, in her case, water. But, one night in Lake Tahoe, when she and her friend, Sera, a fire elemental, were trying to trap a serial killer, her power failed, with fatal consequences. For years, Aidan tried to run away from her past, retreating to a lonely house in Oregon, but when a close friend is brutally murdered—by what appears to be the serial killer she and Sera vanquished—Aidan is drawn back to Lake Tahoe and her past. She and Sera begin the process of mending their broken relationship, and she finds that there is more to the world of non-humans than she’d been led to believe. With a serial killer now focused on her, two FBI agents determined to find out just what the hell’s going on, and her own feelings about life and love bubbling close to the surface, Aidan must learn to control her power if she and her friends are to survive.

Broken Elements is the first book in the Elements series by Mia Marshall. It follows the exploits of Aidan Brook and her Elemental friends as they navigate between their world and that of the humans, but does it in a way that makes it read like a finely tuned mystery or thriller rather than just another paranormal story. The magical elements are woven into the story almost unobtrusively, but are nevertheless crucial parts of the plot.

An interesting premiere to what I predict will be a popular series. Four stars.

Review of ‘Time Management Mastery’

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One of the keys to success in any endeavor is learning to effectively manage time. There are a finite number of hours in each day, and if you fail to adequately manage them, more tasks than hours to get them done. Time Management Mastery by Greg Host is a short book that offers some sage advice for learning how to make the most of the time available to you; learning how to distinguish between tasks that are important (but not time-bound) and those that are urgent (must be done or the consequences are dire).

The author offers nothing that can’t be found in thousands of other pages of books on management, but he does it in a brief, easy-to-read and easy-to-understand form that fits the theme of the book. After all, if an author is going to talk about getting things done in the shortest amount of time possible, the credibility is suspect if it takes hundreds of pages to do it.

A useful book for those who feel there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Insatiable’

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Sydney Rye, a London-based private investigator, wants to be free of her past. When a dangerous man from that past approaches her with a job, rescue the daughter of a powerful Mexican businessman and his politician wife, her first instinct is to refuse. But, he offers to pay her with what she really wants more than anything else in the world—finally to put the past away forever. Once she arrives in Mexico, however, her partner turns on her, and the kidnap victim turns out to be something else altogether. Suddenly, Sydney finds herself the subject of a massive manhunt; someone wants her dead. She has to use all her wits, her dog, Blue, and a network of friends and fans to survive.

Insatiable by Emily Kimelman is the third book in the Sydney Rye series, and after having read it, I’m encouraged, no, obsessed, with reading the first two. Sydney is a strong female character, not without flaws, and not incapable of feeling fear or making a mistake—but, she learns from her mistakes. Nonstop action and suspense that zips like a comet from London to the Yucatan to the Caribbean and back again, with more twists than a Coney Island roller coaster. You’ll cheer the good guys and boo the villains, until you realize that some of the good guys are villains. But, you won’t be able to put it down until you reach the end.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Savvy Solopreneur’s Guide to Networking’

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If you’re a solo entrepreneur; writer, photographer, or online marketer, The Savvy Solopreneur’s Guide to Networking  by Karen Banes is a worthwhile read. In order to get your creative output in front of customers, the one thing you need to do, and do well, is network. This short guide is an overview of online and offline networking—not just selling, which is a different kettle of fish—that will jumpstart your efforts. Written in plain, easy to understand language, complete with action lists at the end of each chapter, this book doesn’t get into the how and why of specific platforms; it offers instead, a general overview of how to develop your unique networking campaign. It also offers a list of ‘don’ts’ to keep you from becoming just another annoying presence hawking your works.

If you want to create value in your presence, this guide is a good start on that journey. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Oliver and Jumpy 49-51’

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Oliver, the elegant tomcat, is back with Jumpy and his other friends in another series of adventures that will bemuse and beguile your little ones. Oliver and Jumpy: 49-51 by Werner Stejskal has Oliver getting in trouble with an ice bear when he goes skating with Jumpy’s son, Joey, Oliver tutoring a family of young mice, and finally, Oliver and Jumpy helping to teach a naughty dragon a lesson.

Interesting and entertaining stories that youngsters will love having read to them, with fantastic pictures to accompany them will keep your young ones busy for hours.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Talisman’

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Shiloh Wallace spells her name with a ‘y’ instead of an ‘i,’ not because she’s shy, but just to be different. She has few friends, beyond her dad, his best friend, Samuel, his blind secretary, Bea, and her best friend forever, Katie. Life in Welch, West Virginia is boring for 17-year-old Shiloh who is anxious to turn 18 and finally graduate from high school so she can leave Welch in the coal dust. Then, she starts to have strange dreams and experience strange things, especially when the strange man, Lazarus comes to town with plans to buy the man where he daddy works. When she touches the stranger, she learns an even stranger thing, she can read thoughts of people when she touches them. As if that’s not strange enough, the oddball geology professor who came to town with Lazarus, when she finds him sneaking around Shiloh Ridge, informs her that she’s not really ‘human.’ She’s a Talisman, a strange race of supernatural being who can channel awesome powers through stones. Okay, do I have you attention? Good, because  it only gets better—or worse depending upon your point of view—from that point. Shiloh quickly finds herself in a life or death struggle with other Talismans who want to kill her because she’s the heir to the most powerful item on earth.

Talisman  by S. E. Akers is a refreshing paranormal story, with lots of humor, a ton of teen angst—did I mention that Shiloh’s mom hates her and her kid sister thinks she’s been put on earth only to serve  as her handmaiden. Add a town bully, son of the mine owner, and the usual complement of high school harridans, and Shiloh doesn’t really need angry Talismans trying to poison her or rip her throat out. But she has all that, and precious little time to learn to harness her powers, because not only is her life at stake, but so are the lives of the few people she cares about and the survival of the whole town. If Shiloh can’t learn to control the diamond wand—yeah, and you thought diamonds were a girl’s best friend, right?—it’s curtains.

What can I say—you’ll enjoy this book. The dialogue is authentic without becoming insulting or corny, and the action is riveting. My hat’s off to the author for writing a YA s tory that an old graybeard like me could read without concealing it behind a ‘Sport’s Illustrated.’

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Bravo and Elphie’

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Elphie’s afraid of just about everything; he won’t go on the slide or play on the monkey bars until his mom gets him a new pet, the rat, Bravo. At first, Elphie doesn’t like Bravo, because he doesn’t know him, but mom suggests he take him to the park where they can become acquainted. At the park, Elphie learns not only to get along with Bravo, but to take care of him, and his fears disappear.

Bravo and Elphie by mother-daughter team Hagit and Or Oran is a cute little story for young readers or for those being read to that teaches children not to be afraid of things they’ve never seen, and to learn to explore the world around them. The illustrations are nice and will appeal to everyone.

This is a great book for the parent or grandparent of a timid child, to help pull them out of their shells of shyness. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Netherfield Affair’

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Elizabeth Bennet goes to Netherfield Park to keep her sick sister, Jane, company. Things turn odd as soon as she arrives. She sees a ghostly face in an upstairs window of the manor, and hears eerie sounds. Then, when things start turning up missing, and she meets a dark stranger in the middle of the night, she finds herself embroiled in danger and scandal, and the only one she can turn to for help is the stiff Mr. Darcy, who at first seems to dislike her, or at least, to hold her in disdain.

The Netherfield Affair by Penelope Swan is a Regency mystery written in the style of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The author does a fantastic job of recreating the style of Austen’s works, with a touch of mystery, complete with hidden clues and red herrings. Jane Austen fans will love this book, and even if you’re not particularly fond of this style of writing, I’m sure you’ll find this an entertaining story. This is the first book in a planned four-book series that explores the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy.

I’ll be looking for the next one to see if the mysterious highwayman is found, and just what his story really is. That’s a bit of a spoiler, but only a bit. The ending will still surprise you.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Crescent City’

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Alec Winters, a 40-year-old native of New Orleans, though in good shape, looks like a normal person. But, he has another personality, one that was brought out when he came to his sister Cat’s rescue when their father was trying to rape her. To some he’s seen as a bright angel of redemption, but, to the evil, he’s seen as a giant, red devil, come to take them to the depths of hell.

Crescent City by Chariss K. Walker is a dark paranormal thriller that follows Alex as he moves around the Crescent City protecting the weak from their tormentors. It is also the story of Vivien Simon, an investigative reporter who senses there’s more to the story of a few grisly murders than meets the eye, and who is relentless in her pursuit of the truth.

A tense story that is for the most part well-paced, this tale will chill you as Alec races against time to save his love, from a greedy man who is willing to kill her rather than see her belong to someone else. It’s only with Vivien’s help that he can do it, but there’s a possible cost; it might mean exposing Cat to more trauma. He is faced with an almost impossible choice. I won’t spoil it by telling you how the story turns out, but I assure you that you’ll like it. It did get a little choppy near the end, almost as if the author was rushing to get it done, which is too bad, but didn’t spoil what’s on balance a pretty good story.

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

Review of ‘Dragon Domain’

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Cheyenne and Celeste had been close—in fact, Celeste was like a mother to Cheyenne—until Dominic came. He promised Celeste love, but instead, he awakened her dark side, and the two of them are determined to destroy Cheyenne. With the help of Jane and others of the Dragon Clan, Cheyenne must resist a force that becomes stronger with each soul Dominic and Celeste binds to their dark designs. The forces that Cheyenne must face as she fights to save her home, though, are overwhelming.

Dragon Domain is the second book in the Dragon Clan Trilogy by Theresa Chaze. It is a compelling tale of love and betrayal with a Wiccan heroine you can’t help but cheer for. The action is chilling and the human emotions are deep. This one reads like a good thriller, with a dollop of witchcraft thrown into the mix. You don’t have to be a fan of paranormal fiction to like it.

This is one you’ll want to schedule a good block of time to read, but you won’t want to put it down once you’ve started.

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

Review of ‘Death Unmasked’

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Houston Police Detective Sean Jamison is tormented. Long on the job, he’s suffering both physical and mental burnout, as he and his colleagues search for a serial killer who is targeting the women of the city. Then, belching smoke from an oil refinery triggers a memory in Jamison, a memory of a past life, and a love lost. As one memory piles on top of another, he realizes that his lost love is no longer ‘lost,’ but is a possible target of the killer known as The Magician, and only dogged police work and his strange ‘intuition’ can catch the killer and save his beloved.

Death Unmasked by Rick Sulik is a gripping paranormal thriller, deftly combining the paranormal with police procedure as Jamison finds more and more links with his past as he chases a killer who quotes from an ancient poem after each crime.

The author drops one surprise after another as you make your way through this riveting story, ending with a more than satisfying, but strange conclusion. I can’t say which was better, the way he handled reincarnation, or the way he built a murder mystery, clue by clue, so I guess I’ll just have to say the whole thing worked for me.

This was a pretty competent first novel.

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

Review of ‘Casimir Bridge’

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A deep space survey ship is lost on the fringes of a distant star system, victim of a sneak attack. A nuclear terror plot is foiled on the outskirts of Washington, DC, and the evidence points to the company that holds the key to interstellar travel, and a conspiracy is ‘uncovered’ pointing to this same company.

Casimir Bridge, a first novel by Darren D. Beyer is a science fiction-thriller that covers four star systems, and, thanks to the author’s background as a NASA engineer, the technical details, even those describing systems that don’t yet exist, come across as entirely credible. The action switches back and forth between the efforts of a young journalist, Mandisa Khosi, who has stumbled across a byzantine plot to gain incredible power, and Jans Mikel, the CEO of AIC, the company that’s the target of an extremely hostile takeover by a powerful man who will stop at nothing to gain even more power. Beyer’s descriptions of space travel are richly detailed and credible, as are the accounts of the intrigue and political maneuvering that goes on behind the scenes.

Great science fiction, but on a deeper level, if you take away the interstellar travel and violence, the author could be describing events taking place in the present day. The unbridled pursuit of power that characterizes modern-day politics is on full display in this nonstop thrill-a-minute story.

Beyer is definitely a science fiction author to keep an eye on, and this story ends on a cliffhanger that makes me anxious to read the sequel.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it five stars, and await the next one.

Review of ‘Neon Spark’

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Faz Pound, aka Black Spark, a Dark Magic Enforcer, travels to Japan in pursuit of Kimiko, the vampire who killed his parents, and who has established herself as the head of Japan’s gangster empire. His mission, to kill her. But, even with the help of his necromancer friend, Dancer, this proves to be a challenge that threatens to overwhelm him as he faces beings from the Hidden unlike any he’s ever seen.

Neon Spark by Al K. Line is the fifth book in the Dark Magic Enforcer series, and it continues the amazing adventures of a human with magic powers who devotes his life to enforcing the arcane laws that keep the worlds of the Hidden and the Normals in balance. If you’ve read the first four books of the series, you’ll enjoy this one as it shows Faz’s character development as he learns more about his own history, as well as the histories of those around him. The action, as always, is nonstop, with wry observations from the main character, of himself and others.

A good read. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Shakedown’

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FBI Special Agent Jack Davis is investigating a drug dealer, using some rather unorthodox methods. At the same time, he’s contending with his own body’s rebellion—he frequently is subjected to violent shaking and tremors—a condition he’s trying to hide from his colleagues and his boss. When the drug dealer, his gang, and his family are slaughtered, Jack is caught off guard, and his condition comes to light, just as he suspects someone on his own team of leaking information to the bad guys. Jack then mounts his own private, and unsanctioned investigation, determined to catch the killer, but also obsessed with protecting his daughter, Wendy, who has taken up with a member of his team. His only resources are his own determination, and the help of Kate Scranton, a behavioral expert who uses micro-expressions to determine when people are being dishonest or evasive.

Shakedown by Joel Goldman is a fast-paced, thriller that explores the darkest side of life, sociological and emotional. Follow Jack and Kate as they match wits with an orderly, driven killer, who is the last person anyone would suspect, while dealing with treachery from those sworn to protect and serve.

Hard to put down once you start it, and will leave you shaking as hard as Jack when it’s all over. I received this book as a gift.

Four stars.

Review of ‘Brainrush’

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Jake Bronson has terminal cancer. During an MRI, there’s an earthquake, and he comes out of the chamber a changed man; with enhanced mental and physical functions that no one can explain. In Italy, terrorist Luciano Battista wants what Jake has, and is willing to kill for it. He sends unwitting Dr. Francesca Fellini, an empath, to convince Jake to cooperate in sharing the secrets of his abilities, but when that fails, he resorts to harsher methods. That is a big mistake. Jake and his friends go to war with Fellini and his goons in an action thriller that is as explosive as some of the explosive charges that detonate.

Brainrush by Richard Bard puts the thrill in thriller. Lots of technical details on weapons and tactics for those who like that kind of stuff, but it also has a lot of the personal dynamics that men and women at war experience. A nice, exciting read. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Iced Malice’

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Eau Claire, Wisconsin is having one of its worst winters in over a hundred years. Detective Kendall Halsrud is investigating the deaths of two teenagers which resembles the 12-year old unsolved cases of three missing couples. Kendall wonders if it’s the same killer, or does someone else have a reason for wanting these kids dead.

In Iced Malice Marla Madison, Kendall has to solve three really cold cases while hot on the trail of a killer who kills without remorse and in some macabre ways, while dealing with her feelings for her colleague, Detective Adam Nashlund, who, after being severely injured while on an undercover operation, suffers amnesia and no longer remembers what they meant to each other.

Chilling mystery (no pun intended) and warm human emotions entwine in a story that can only be called a page-turner. Get it while it’s hot. I give it four cool stars!

Review of ‘Connections’

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Rosa Bassetti is an elderly resident of the Upper East-side of Manhattan, an area inhabited by people who are not rich stockbrokers or financiers. All Rosa has is her dog and the connection with her neighbors who also have pets. When Eileen Hargan, another senior citizen who is her neighbor, receives a threat against her pet unless she pays money, Rosa springs into action, determined to get to the bottom of it.

Connections by Jacqueline Wein is a story of the connections people have with their pets, and those that develop because of a common love of their animal companions. Though the story has a strong focus on the interpersonal dynamics, it’s also a competently written mystery, that follows several characters as they learn that the threats against pet owners is more widespread than originally thought.

The author captures your imagination and interest from the very beginning and keeps it throughout the book. Her portrayal of the diverse people living in Manhattan, and the everyday travails the elderly face make this a book for the serious reader and the casual lover of mysteries alike.

I give Wein five stars for this one.

Review of ‘Livin’ Lanaina Loca’

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Pali Moon is a wedding planner with a missing bridesmaid. When a lock of the missing woman’s hair ends up on the backseat of Pali’s car, she really starts to worry, and when the woman’s fake fingernails are put in a sack and hung on her door, she knows something’s wrong. Unfortunately, the police don’t take her seriously, and tell her to keep her nose out of it. That’s the wrong thing to tell Pali, and pretty soon, not just her nose is in the mess, she’s up to her neck and sinking.

Livin’ Lahaina Loca by JoAnn Bassett is a thriller/mystery with equal parts humor and horror as we follow Pali and her friends in search of the missing woman. The author nails the local scene in Maui, and has characters you’ll swear you’ve had a drink or two with at some point.

A fun read. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Bonfire’

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When the British SIS sends a four-man team of elite soldiers into North Africa on a covert assassination mission, everything goes wrong. Their target is a dangerous Islamic extremist leader, and accompanying them is the daughter of a local moderate that the UK wants to influence. Hayes, the team leader, fights against long odds, and home-based machinations when the woman’s captured and his team comes under attack. With few allies and more than enough enemies, the team’s survival is in doubt.

Bonfire by Mark Arundel is a fast-paced thriller of secret intelligence and betrayal. Lots of technical and geographical details, but it lost a little credibility when everyone but the main character, Hayes, is given full names. In particular, the woman he’s been ‘intimate’ with should know more than ‘Mr. Hayes.’ This isn’t a deal breaker, but the story would have much better if readers knew more about the hero.

I give this one three stars.

Review of ‘Circling the Sun’

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Beryl Markham was brought to Kenya from England as a child. Abandoned by her mother, she was raised by her father and the Kipsigi tribe. Growing up in such an environment, she became a strong-willed, unconventional woman, unafraid to tackle things thought unfit for a lady, becoming one of Africa’s first female horse trainers and a license pilot in an age when most women didn’t even drive. What Beryl had trouble with, though, was love. From a loveless marriage to a love triangle with the man married to her best friend, she drifted from one failed relationship to another. She did, however, find one love—one that freed her metaphorically as well as physically—flying.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain is a novelized account of Markham’s life from childhood until her first attempt to fly solo across the Atlantic. An amazing piece of historical fiction that brings her to life in ways that straight historical reporting would never be able to do. Meticulously researched, and obviously written with a great degree of passion, you’ll find yourself rooting for Markham as she faces one challenge after another.

This book explores an aspect of colonial Africa from the period before World War 1 to World War 2 that is not often found in historical fiction, or even nonfiction histories, and it is well worth the few hours it takes to read it.

I received this book as a gift—one of my better gifts this year. This one’s an easy five stars.