An assumed natural death, accidents, and an apparent suicide; the victims seemingly not related, and widely separated geographically, begin to take on ominous undertones when Detective Superintendent Greg Woods, aided by a newly assigned Detective Sergeant Maria Barnes team up and notice an odd similarity—in each case, Roman numerals are found on or near the victims. One of the accident victims is a police colleague, with no apparent connection at first to any of the other victims. Through exemplary detective work, though, Woods and Barnes discover that the victims are, in fact, related, and the mysterious killer has connections to Britain’s SIS.
CXVI: The Beginning of the End by Angie Smith is a chilling crime thriller that takes the reader deep into the labyrinth of spying and government corruption, threatening their lives in the process. At the same time, Woods has to deal with his own personality quirks, which make it difficult for him to work with people who don’t meet his exacting standards, and Barnes must overcome her own baggage, including a secret from her past that could threaten the growing rapport between her and her boss, Woods.
A fast-paced and gripping thriller in the quintessential British style, the author paints sometimes overly detailed—but, in the end, necessary, pictures of the characters as the reader is sucked into the murky world of politics, secret intelligence, and human perfidy. In a few places, more background detail than is absolutely necessary is provided, thereby slowing the pace of a story that is compelling in the view it gives of the lengths some people will go to in the name of national security.
You will, however, be drawn to the characters, in particular the two main protagonists, as they use skill, determination, and sometimes, sheer luck, to elude the powerful forces that are set out to block—or kill—them, while at the same time, relentlessly trying to fulfill their oath to uphold the law.
There are enough clues given that a sharp-eyed reader, if paying careful attention, will see where it’s going. Or, think they have. The ending, a perfect cliffhanger, will leave you gasping—I promise you, you won’t have seen it coming. It’ll leave you wanting to read the second book in this trilogy, and that’s an iron-clad guarantee.
I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for my review, and, even though it has a few issues of description and narrative not uncommon in first novels, I give it four stars without a heartbeat of hesitation.
As the crisis continues war breaks out between militias and those seen as protecting the newly transformed zombies. Hunter Morgan, whose daughter has somehow been infected by a variant of Mutation Z, finds himself in the crosshairs of Clay Dixon, a militia leader. With a near breakdown of law and order, Morgan, now allied with survivors of a government test lab in Liberia, must go on the run with his family if they are to survive—if anyone is to survive.
Mutation Z: Protecting our Own by Marilyn Peake is not the usual zombie apocalypse story. Instead of focusing on shambling zombies roaming the night eating human brains, the author shows how zealots, unregulated government actions, and corporate greed can all contribute to a breakdown of order in a society. She also shows how a few individuals with strong spirit can fight back.
Another interesting addition to the Mutation Z series that ends of something of a cliffhanging note—now the author will have a challenge to deliver a satisfying ending to this series—or, will she? I give it four stars.
When mutilated bodies start turning up on both sides of the US-Mexican border, journalist Hunter Morgan starts looking into what could turn out to be the most important—and dangerous—story of his career. In the meantime, health volunteer Emma Johnson and her friend Dr. Chibueze Koroma are still being held in the Ebola camp in Liberia where they’re experimented on with the compound, Mutation Z. From Texas to Liberia, Morgan chases a story, revealing that the government is in league with a pharmaceutical company to produce an army of zombies, and it is willing to kill to keep the program secret. Worse, as the mutation gets out of government control, it sparks a reaction from fringe elements in American society that further add to the chaos.
Mutation Z: Closing the Borders by Marilyn Peake picks up where the first book left off, and the suspense is ratcheted up several notches as new characters and plot lines are introduced. Wild, conspiracy theory related, unbelievable; all these descriptions can be applied to this book—this entire series. But, it’s presented in such a way that a reader doesn’t really have to suspend disbelief—it’s only necessary to take the current headlines or those of the recent past and ask, could there be more to this than meets the eye—and then realize that, yes there could.
Quick reads, competently written. If you’re into zombie thrillers, give them a look-see. I give it four stars.
L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future: Volume 31 edited by David Farland presents 13 of the best science fiction stories from the Writers of the Future International Program, along with illustrations from the best of the Illustrators of the Future International Program from 2015. In addition, it contains three short stories by established sci-fi writers, and essays on writing by Hubbard, Orson Scott Card, and Bob Eggleton.
Science fiction fans will be fascinated by stories that span the universe of the genre, from fantastic futurism to the antics of mythological creatures lost in a modern setting. The illustrations, from outstanding graphic artists from around the world, harken to a time when pulp fiction reigned, and we were seduced to buy by the colorful covers screaming at us from the shelves in the local bookstore.
The stories in this volume, celebrating the 31st anniversary of a competition founded by L. Ron Hubbard as a way to attract more authors, showcase the immense reservoir of talent that exists for short fiction. Indeed, the universe of sci-fi stars is not, like our own, shrinking. New stars are being born before our very eyes.
I give it five stars.
A series of terrorist attacks in major US cities infects people, destroying higher brain functions and turning people into flesh-eating monsters. By the third day, the infected are disappearing into the shadows because of their sensitivity to light.
Lance York, an out of work IT type, has all the trouble he thinks he can handle. He can’t find a job and then learns that his wife is having an affair with an old friend—just before she announces she’s leaving him. His day becomes darker when he finds himself at the epi-center of the zombie outbreak, and he has to go on the run in order to survive in a city that is slowly being devoured. He’s all alone until he encounters Cassandra, an eccentric artist with an axe and a skill for survival.
In Devoured, book one of the Hunger series, by Jason Brant, the reader is sucked into a surreal world of monsters, both those infected by the mysterious gas, and some of those who claim to be fighting them. Graphic descriptions of violence and mayhem will probably be too much for those of a sensitive disposition. On the other hand, like people who slow down when they approach a car accident on the road—craning their necks for a sight of blood or dismembered limbs—once you start reading this book, you’ll not be able to put it down.
With a cliffhanger ending, it’ll have you wondering when the author’s coming out with the next one.
I give it four stars.
Following is an excerpt from chapter 1 of the third book in the Pip of Pandara fantasy series. Appreciate reader comments.
* * *
Pip sat at the large wooden desk, staring down at the pile of documents overflowing its top. He shook his head, and then bowed it, cupping his hands to either side, fingers entwined in his flame red hair.
“This is not how it was supposed to be,” he said to himself. “A soldier is not supposed to have to battle stacks of paper.”
Through slitted eyes he stared down at the unruly parchments piled there, silently swearing that they seemed to have grown in number in the few minutes he’d been staring at them. There were supply requests from the quartermaster’s office with Tamara’s untidy scrawl at the bottom of each. Tamara, a fairy of wood and water, did double duty as chief of the quartermaster unit and chief trainer for scouting and reconnaissance. It was the second duty that she much preferred, but her ability with figures had forced Pip to give her the additional duty of keeping track of the many supplies needed to keep his small army feed, clothed and equipped. The volume of requests from her office, though, was her way of getting back at him for the odious office duty which she hated, a fact that she reminded him of each time they met. Beneath that was a smaller pile of documents, mainly from his two regimental commanders, Godfred and Melchor, informing him of their training schedules, plans for recruitment to fill the ranks, and notifications of disciplinary actions—thankfully, there were only a few of these—mostly for minor infractions.
That each of his subordinate chiefs felt it necessary for him to see so much paper was for Pip a constant source of frustration.
What he really ached to do was be out in the field, working with the still green soldiers of Pandara’s national army. No, he reminded himself; fully a third of the ranks were filled by beings from the Land of Fire, making it a combined Pandaran-Land of Fire force. He had yet to think of an appropriate name, so everyone kept the name, National Army of Pandara, shortened to NAP by the soldiers and officers alike. That name would have to go, he thought. He did not want to lead a force called NAP, it sounded too much like a band of vacationers whose aim was to find a place to . . . take a nap. But, try as he might, he’d been unable to think of a more suitable designation.
He felt the beginning of a headache, a dull throbbing at his temples that always came when he wrestled with naming the army. Oh well, that’ll have to be a task for another day. He took the quill pen from its ivory holder, dipped it in the inkwell until the tip was black, and quickly scribbled his name at the bottom of each document. When he’d signed the final document, he stacked them neatly to the left side of his desk. After putting the pen back in its holder, he leaned back and sighed deeply.
A few moments later he sat upright. “Norbert,” he called. “Norbert.”
His aide-de-camp, Norbert, rushed into the office.
“Yes, your highness,” he said. “What do you require?”
Pip looked up at the young soldier. The gold star on his collar, signifying his recent promotion to lieutenant, reflected the light from the lamp on Pip’s desk.
“What I require, Norbert, is for you to call me commander, not your highness. We are in the army here, not the throne room. Here I am the commander.”
“B-but, your high-, er commander, you are the heir to the throne, second only to her majesty, Queen Daphne. It hardly seems appropriate for me not to–”
Pip waved his hand in a choppy motion, causing the young man to stop mid-sentence with his mouth hanging open.
“That is an order, Lieutenant. We will follow military discipline in this army. Am I clear?”
Norbert’s back straightened and he threw his shoulders back.
“Aye, sir, commander, sir,” he said.
“Good,” Pip said. He smiled. “Now, I want you to take this forsaken paperwork from my desk and return it to the authors. I am going to my quarters to have a few words with Lady Zohra, and after that you and I will go on an inspection of the army, so get our horses ready.”
“Aye, commander.” Norbert beamed a broad smile as he gathered the papers. “Should I bring the mounts to your quarters?”
“No, I’ll meet you at the stables.”
Norbert clicked his heels and bowed his head slightly. Pip would have preferred a salute, but the man was holding the documents against his chest with both hands.
“Aye, commander, I will wait for you at the stable.”
Pip rose as Norbert marched smartly out. He could not restrain a smile, thinking that young Norbert just a short time before had been a farm boy, new to the army, when Pip had taken him on the mission against the evil tyrant Tenkuk in Barbaria. The lad had acquitted himself well in that operation, and upon his return, Pip had made him his aide, recently promoting him to a rank befitting the aide-de-camp of the army commander.
Pip adjusted his tunic as he walked toward the door. At the door, he took his sword from the rack and belted it around his waist. Chuckling, he exited his office. Zohra, he knew, would chide him for wearing it when he visited her in her chambers, but he didn’t want to take the time to return to his office for it before joining Norbert at the stable.
As he’d guessed, his wife’s eyes went directly to the sword at his waist when he entered the bedchamber.
“So, now that I’m heavy with child, my husband finds it necessary to arm himself before approaching me,” she said wryly. “Am I truly that unattractive?”
Pip pulled up short, his mouth agape. For a few heartbeats he was at a loss for words. Unattractive? His Zohra? Far from it. He’d found that as her belly grew rounder with the life she carried inside her body, she seemed to become radiant, that he desired her even more. When he gazed upon her face, his breathing stopped, and his heart beat so fiercely he feared it would burst from his chest.
“No, my dearest wife,” he said when he could at last find his voice. “You are without doubt the most beautiful woman in all of Pandara; nay, the most beautiful in the entire known and unknown universe.”
Zohra, now in her sixth month of pregnancy, lowered her gaze. Her cheeks darkened. She could not stifle the smile that turned her carmine lips upward. But, Zohra of Avia, of the Eagle Clan, was not one to let her victim off easily.
In prison there are no secrets. This is something ex-cop turned prison chaplain John Jordan discovers, as he wrestles with his personal demons—a broken marriage, a drinking problem, and the haunting memories of a case he worked when he was a cop in Atlanta. Now the chaplain of a prison in a small Florida town, he has to deal with the blood that always seems to be around him.
Written in the Blood: Volume 1 by Michael Lister is a completely different kind of mystery, one that is not defined by others in the genre; it is, in fact, in a category of its own. Lister, himself a former prison chaplain, writes with authenticity and with a level of detail, both in the physical descriptions and the peeks into the psyches of the characters that is unmatched. You can smell the blood and desperation, and feel the tension from the opening sentence until the final word. This volume contains two full-length novels and a series of short stories that give the back stories of Jordan’s life. The author states up front that the short stories can be skipped, but I strongly encourage reading this book from start to finish.
Lister is a voice to watch on the mystery scene. Five stars to Lister, and a plea to keep ’em coming!
Review of ‘F*ck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice for Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems by Michael Bennett, MD and Sarah Bennett | Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review’
Most books by psychologists, especially self-help books, are written in psycho-babble and are long on grand promises to help you get on the path to achieving life success. F*ck Feelings by Michael Bennett, MD and his humor writer daughter, Sarah Bennett, is anything but. Written in a pragmatic style, with bits of self-deprecating humor and salty language that make it a book you don’t want to leave lying around where your kids can access it, F*ck Feelings pulls back the curtains on life and tells it ‘like it is.’
F*ck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice for Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems by Michael Bennett, MD and Sarah Bennett/Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review by Eureka Books is a practical, easy-to-read summary of the book, and goes a long way to providing an iron to smooth the wrinkles out of your life roadmap.
First, some things in life can be change, but many can’t, and we have to learn to live with that fact. Secondly, we must be aware of the unintended consequences of our actions, even the well- meaning ones. Practical and nonjudgmental, this sounds like the book everyone needs to read. I give it five stars.
When Jerry Langford, the security chief at Granderson University, hires Ray Courage after someone steals the files of a PhD student working on a project that could lead to a way to reduce greenhouse gas and revolutionize the energy industry, it seems a fairly routine case. Ray is dragooned into being the bagman when the thief demands a $20 million payment for return of the files.
What appeared to be a simple case, though, quickly becomes complicated when two murders occur, and Ray finds himself dealing with crooked corporate executives and a band of criminals who would just as soon see him dead. He and his sidekick, Rubia, must unravel the mystery of the Monarch Project before they become the next victims.
Courage Stolen by R. Scott Mackey is book four in the Ray Courage Private Investigator series, and continues the excitement of the first three. The author is a master wordsmith who knows how to meld wry humor, pathos, and action into a story that grabs you by the hair and twists until you submit. Pithy dialogue and incisive narrative give readers a picture full of soot, blood and gore, with touches of hilarity that seem to fit the world that the protagonist inhabits. This is a book that you simply cannot put down until the closing scene.
I received an advance copy of Courage Stolen in exchange for my unbiased review. If you’re a mystery fan, particularly noir mysteries with a liberal dose of humor, this is a book you absolutely must read.
One of the easiest five star ratings I’ve given all year!
Review of ‘Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson | Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review’
Furiously Happy is a funny book about horrible things. The author, Jenny Lawson suffers from clinical depression and a number of other emotional and physical ills, and after a serious bout of depression decided to combat it by being furiously happy. She tweeted about her experience, which started an immediate trend and won her a worldwide audience.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson/Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review by Instaread dissects Lawson’s book for the reader, summarizing the genesis of the book, and the stream-of-conscious style she uses that creates a book that is funny and poignant at the same time. This summary, which highlights the fact that Lawson’s technique of focusing on the high points in life can help raise the low points, and shows her celebrating her zaniness, will certainly make most readers want to know more.
A comprehensive list of references at the end of the summary is like icing on a tasty cake—it adds greatly to the value of an already valuable resource. I give it five stars.
Review of ‘Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard | Summary & Analysis’
Conservative TV personality Bill O’Reilly and author Martin Dugard collaborated to write Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency, an account of Ronald Reagan’s rise from movie actor to the U.S. presidency. The book chronicles Reagan’s entry into acting, his World War II military service, and his involvement in politics when his movie career began to stagnate, beginning with his election to the post of president of the Screen Actors’ Guild.
According to the authors, Reagan was originally a democrat, but when he married his second wife, actress Nancy Davis, he fell under her sway, became a Republican and an ultra-conservative. Reagan was well known for his anti-communist views, though, even before he became governor of California or entered the White House.
Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard/Summary & Analysis by Instaread is an unauthorized, unofficial review of the book. It gives an in-depth summary of the book, chapter by chapter. The book, much to the consternation of many conservatives and Reagan fans, does not shrink from discussing his failures and weaknesses, including Nancy’s degree of control of events and use of an astrologer during his time in the White House. If there’s a weakness in the book—the original book, not the summary—it’s that the authors don’t seem to provide concrete evidence to support every claim they make about Reagan, positive or negative. The original book also seems to get into the minds of characters, stating their motives, but without proving that the authors had sufficient access to know this.
Much of what is in the book is known, or has been suspected, and much of it is probably true. The problem is, we’ll probably never know for sure. That said, the Instaread summary gives a good description of a book that is bound to spark much controversy, so my advice is read this first before you plunk down a significant sum for the original.
I give it four stars.
Review of ‘Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert | Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review’
Creativity is natural in humans, but we often suppress it. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, tries through quotes, anecdotes, and motivational passages to inspire everyone to embrace creativity in whatever form is natural, and to have the courage to lead a creative life. The author’s exploration of creativity through real life experiences, and her common sense approach to the topic, makes this an essential book for anyone even remotely interested in pursuing creative endeavors.
Whether you’re an aspiring full time artist or writer, or just interested in a more serious pursuit of some creative avocation, this is a book that just might help you overcome the feelings of trepidation that often prevent people from plunging ahead.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert/Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review by Instaread is a summary of Gilbert’s book, with discussions of the key points that readers should take away from it, an analysis of the author’s style, and an overall summary of the book’s themes and objectives. An interesting book to read, and a good place to start would be with this summary.
I give this book four stars.
I don’t normally pay a lot of attention to blog awards–too busy blogging, book reviewing, and writing–but, I have to stop and say thanks to Anatomy of Perceval for One Lovely Blog Award. I’m really not sure what I did to deserve it, but it’s always nice to learn that there are actually people out there who read what I write.
So, having that out of the way, I’ll follow the rules for this award.
7 Interesting Facts About Myself
I’ve been writing since I was about 12 or 13 – got my first short story published in a national magazine back then.
I have a short attention span, and get bored easily, so I write and read in a lot of genres.
My first full-length work of fiction took eight years to write–but, now I finish a book of 60,000 words in about a month.
I was a paratrooper in the army, but I’m afraid of heights. I can’t stand on the edge of a three-story balcony without getting dizzy.
I like animals, but am allergic to cats.
Because of a childhood accident that damaged my eye nerves, I don’t have binocular vision. But, it was undiagnosed until I was nearly 20, so I’d learned to compensate–including playing baseball and shooting expert with a rifle in basic training when I joined the army at 17. Go figure.
I love to travel, but I hate flying.
Blogs I’m nominating
These are bloggers I follow, even though I don’t visit them as often as I probably should. When I do, though, I always find something to make my day. Not everyone has the time to respond to these awards, and I’ll certainly understand if they fall into that category, but I just had to express my appreciation for the great writing they do.
Rules for the Award
In conclusion, to all my blogger nominees, here is the list of rules to participate:
- Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link to her/his blog.
- List 7 interesting facts about yourself.
- Nominate 15 other bloggers and inform them by posting on their site.
- List the rules and display the award.
Review of ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown | Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review ‘
The modern world’s focus on multi-tasking and a near obsession with getting more done with less has led many people to lead lives of frustration and lack of meaningful achievement. Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, advises a minimalist approach to tasks and obligations by focusing on the things that are truly important. To individuals and leaders of teams and organizations, McKeown offers some sage advice; have a clear focus on the things that really matter so that you can know when goals are reached, have clearly defined roles, and learn when to say NO or to stop pursuing things that do not contribute to your ultimate goal.
Instaread’s Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review of Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less gives an in-depth summary of the book that is useful in itself. Each chapter is analyzed, with brief descriptions of the author’s main points. After reading this summary, a reader will have a good idea of the content and importance of the work being reviewed, and confidence that this is an unbiased opinion; given that Instaread reviews are not commissioned or authorized by the author or publisher of a work. In a busy world, where we’re often required to attempt multitasking, finding ourselves short of an unrenewable resource—time—having a tool like this is fantastic.
This, by the way, is highly recommended, and if you agree with me, read the full book as well. I give it five stars.
A deranged killer is out to destroy Jessica Lee’s career. Lee, host of a popular British confessional TV talk show, receives a warning; ‘Every time you appear on screen someone will die.’ To show that he’s serious, he brutally murders a young woman, and then calls the police to tell them where to find the body.
DCI Sam Quinn, chief of Scotland Yard’s Celebrity Crime Squad, is immediately assigned the case. Quinn has a personal reason to take it seriously; his wife, a well-known actress, was killed by another celebrity stalker. Quinn has a problem, though. He’s in debt to a bookie who is determined to collect, even if he has to break Quinn’s legs to do it.
Stark Warning by James Raven is British mystery at its best. Raven gets inside the head of Quinn as he struggles with his own demons while trying to stop the killer before the corpses pile too high. The tension starts on a high note, and builds to a chilling conclusion that will leave you absolutely breathless. At the same time, he gives you a look inside the cutthroat world of network television. For readers on the U.S. side of the Atlantic, it’s nice to know that the quest for ratings is just as vicious in England as it is here.
If you like a good mystery, don’t miss this book. Five stars for a great book.
Pocket journal with ‘Buffalo Soldier’ photo on front cover and ‘Writer’ cartoon on back cover
While he’s between cases, PI Reed Ferguson is spending time with his girlfriend, Willie. When Willie’s apartment house burns, and it turns out to be arson, and worse, the body of one of her tenants is found in the ashes, Reed finds himself with what could be the most important case of his life—he has to find the killer in order to prove that it’s not Willie, and stay alive while he does it.
Torch Scene by Renee Pawlish is the sixth in her Reed Ferguson mystery series, and is another well-constructed whodunit, complete with wry humor and blood-chilling conflict. Pawlish is generous with clues throughout this tight tale, but they’re offered in a way that only the truly sharp-eyed will get them. She keeps the reader guessing until the very end. A truly hot story. I give it four stars!
I received a free copy of The Christmas Cats Fear for the Deer, written by Constance Corcoran Wilson and illustrated by Gary McCluskey in exchange for my review.
The Christmas cats worry about a herd of deer that are grazing in an area where they can do damage to crops and are in danger from hunters. Told in verse, with colorful paintings, the book shows how the cats find a unique way to help keep the deer safe, avoid damage to the crops, and come up with an alternative delivery vehicle for Christmas.
Some of the verses, especially those that show hunting in a less than negative light, might be a bit intense for some children, and the rhyming is a bit rough in some verses, it will entertain many. Looking past the portrayal of hunters, though, it does show that problems can be solved if one thinks beyond the usual solutions, and the activity pages at the end are nice for helping younger readers learn problem solving.
I give this neat little book four stars/