Review of ‘Death by a Honeybee

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Deserted and left nearly broke by her philandering husband, Josiah Reynolds ekes out a living by keeping bees and selling honey at the farmer’s market in Lexington, KY. When a man is found dead, head down in one of her hives, her already challenging life is turned upside down. It doesn’t help that the dead man is Richard Pidgeon, a man she has had bad encounters with, and his car is not found near the scene, making the police wonder if his death might be the result of foul play. Her life is further complicated when the lead detective on the case is a former student from her time as a college professor, a man who has a grudge against her because she reported him for cheating on one of her tests, costing him his athletic scholarship.

When Josiah starts getting letters accusing her of not only killing Pidgeon, but her late husband as well, she knows someone’s trying to frame her, but, having decided that Pidgeon’s death was just an unfortunate accident, the police are no longer interested. All of the police force, with the exception of the one cop who has a major grudge against her.

Death by a Honeybee by Abigail Keam is not your ordinary cozy mystery. It’s also the story of a middle-aged southern woman trying to make her way through life with a minimum of fuss and bother, but who is plagued with problems on all sides.

The author paints a brilliant picture of southern society, with snippets of interesting history thrown in for good measure. The protagonist, Josiah Reynolds, is feisty and independent, but slightly overweight and suffering from asthma, she’s hardly a superhero. This alone makes the story intriguing, as the author sets up situations that seem too much for someone in her condition, and then resolves them logically, and with a bit of humor.

Josiah just replaced Kinsey Milhone as my favorite female mystery character. We senior citizens have to stick together.

This is the first book in the series, and the ending is something of a cliffhanger, but it was still an enjoyable read, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series. I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Red Gold’

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With his beloved wife dead, Professor Gabriel McKenna is adrift. When he receives a notice that a distant aunt has died and left him as sole inheritor of her estate, he leaves New York City and travels to New Mexico. Once there, he’s drawn into an ancient search for a missing gold horde, the Lost Adams Gold, which has cost many lives. His family’s secrets are the key to finding the gold, but there are powerful forces arrayed against him, and there are few people he can trust. Friends from his past come to his aid, but ultimately, it is left to him to decide whether he will find, not just the lost gold, but his capacity to live and love.

Red Gold by Richard D. Kidera takes the reader into the sometimes forbidding terrain of New Mexico, painting in vibrant colors the landscape, culture and history of this exotic locale. The action, even when it’s just McKenna wrestling with his inner demons, is palpable. Kidera is a master wordsmith, who can make you feel the stinging grit of a desert windstorm, and smell the smoke from a cabin fire.

McKenna is a bit older than your average hero, but he’s no less interesting, and this story will grip your imagination and be with you long after you finish reading.

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

Review of ‘Nalakamataki!’

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A series of unlikely events, most notable being the crashing of a space station into the Data Center, where it was definitely not expected to crash. The thing that no one noticed; it could not have crashed where it did without intelligent help. Oh, and who are those strange people emerging from the lake speaking a strange language?

Nalakamataki! By Samuel Roberts is aptly termed ‘cross-genre’ science fiction, because it crosses a number of genres, sometimes effortlessly, sometimes a bit clumsily. There’s humor, pathos, fantasy, and science fiction, and it’s stirred together much like gumbo, where all the ingredients contribute to the whole, while retaining their own unique tastes.

I don’t know if the author would agree, or even approve, but I chose to call this new age experimental fiction. In most places, it flows steadily enough that it’s easy to follow, but the frequent character point of view changes can create a bumpy read. I also wasn’t too sure about the ending, or for that matter, the destination.

This was a fairly entertaining read. Not on a par with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but striving for it.

I received an advanced review copy of this book. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Forbidden Birth’

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Driven by a desire to avenge the murder of his mother, Dr. Chris Ravello gave up a lucrative medical practice and became an NYPD detective. Tabbed to head the city’s new Medical Crimes Unit, his first case is a sadistic killer known as The Giver, who seems determined to inflict pain on young, pregnant woman he’d deemed unworthy.

Forbidden Birth by William Rubin is a combination police procedural, thriller, and medical mystery that follows Chris as he has to balance his deteriorating family situation with the desperate search for a killer who seems to always be one step ahead of the authorities. A lot of medical information—probably more than a layman reader needs or wants to know—slows the narrative down in a few places, but the author more than makes up for it when he gets to the action scenes.

Lots of red herrings and foreshadowing to keep you guessing, and as much human drama as your nerves can take.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Pledge to Kill’

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Debra Hayes sister, Jane, was gang-raped when she was a high school student in the little town of Decker, Texas. A head injury left her brain damaged and institutionalized. A decade later, Debra, under an assumed name is back in Decker, and she takes over the town dentist’s practice. But, her mission is not dentistry; it’s to avenge her sister.

Pledge to Kill by Judy Goodspeed follows Debra from her teen years as she formulates a complicated plan to find and punish her sister’s attackers. While the reader can sympathize with her desire for revenge, she comes across as a selfish, self-absorbed vigilante who buries all traces of humanity under a blanket of anger and vengeance. At times, the reader is almost able to have some sympathy for her, and then she does something to show that she’s been totally taken over by a need to inflict pain on those she blames for her sister’s condition.

The plotting of this story is competent, though marred by too much detail that does little to explain her obsession. The tempo of the story is uninspiring, with far too much busy work, such as the details of her fixing a meal. Too much telling, and not enough showing, makes reading it an effort.

It only gets really interesting near the end when the main character is faced with a situation where she should learn that vengeance can be as damaging to the avenger as to the target, but is unable to. This has the potential to be a really great story, maybe even one with cinematic potential, but it needs some serious line editing to work out the boring parts, and do more showing of what the character is experiencing rather than the telling.

The author has potential that can be realized with some more serious proofreading and line editing.

I would sincerely like to rate it higher, but can only give it two and a half stars.

Review of ‘Reaper’s Deliverance’

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Ryder was a biker, addicted to action, alcohol, and not very concerned with others. When he died in a horrific motorcycle accident, he was given a choice; go on to his next life which would probably be worse than what he left, or become a Reaper. He somewhat reluctantly decides that being a Reaper would be the better choice; a decision that is validated when he meets Elizabeth, a single mother whose son, Thomas, has a terminal illness.

When Thomas’ soul is taken by evil forces who want him for his special talents, Ryder, Elizabeth, and a band of disturbed Reapers set out to rescue him. During this dangerous quest, Ryder finds himself changing; for the first time, in life or death, he finds himself putting others before himself.

Reaper’s Deliverance by Miranda Stork follows Ryder’s transformation from a self-absorbed hedonist into a caring, compassionate man as he risks all to save young Thomas.

An interesting, actually intriguing, premise, with some fairly well-drafted action sequences, the story was, unfortunately, spoiled for me by the presence of far too many typographical and grammatical errors. Another round of proofreading and line editing would make this a really good book. The author has a great idea, but needs to work on more effective presentation.

It is with regrets that I can only give this book three stars.

Review of ‘Slaves Graves’

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Just when he’s settling into his cushy job as the youngest head of a university archeology department, with a new book in the works, and a sophisticated girlfriend, Frank Light is sent to a backwater town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to assess a construction site belonging to rich industrialist and TV personality, Jake Tement as a favor to the university president. Upset that his comfortable routine has been upended, Frank hopes to check the site, decide it’s of no historical importance, and get on with his life. But, things come unglued when he learns that the site is quite possibly a slave burial ground. With the help of Maggie Davis, one of his former students who is now a state archeologist, and Jefferson Allingham, a local preacher who is certain of the historical importance of the site, Frank finds himself at a crucial point in his life; should he just sign off on the site as Tement wants, or should he seek the truth.

Slave Graves by Thomas Hollyday is a tense drama, with the rich history of rural eastern Maryland woven seamlessly into a story that has more than enough action. I was particularly impressed with the way the author used Frank’s experiences in the Vietnam War to move the story forward to a most satisfying conclusion. For readers who are interested in some of the lesser known aspects of American history, this book is a gold mine of information, from the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, to the little known southern sympathies held by many rural Marylanders during the Civil War. The action is built, step by careful step ending in a dramatic, but satisfying conclusion. History and mystery, when well written as this book is, are a sure-fire good read.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Just Juliet’

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Lena Newman is, on the surface, your typical 17-year-old girl. Her best friend is a cheerleader, and she’s dating a football player. But, she often excludes herself from the usual teen activity. Despite this, things move along smoothly, until she meets Juliet James, the new girl in school. Exotic and beautiful, Juliet is also a lesbian, and after they meet, Lena finds herself attracted to her as more than just a friend.

Just Juliet by Charlotte Reagan is a novel about young adults and how they deal with sexual identity. As Lena finds herself drawn closer to Juliet, her friendships and family relationships are tested to the limits. The author handles this sensitive subject in a compassionate manner, delving into the minds and emotions of teens at a crucial time in their lives. While some might find the subject matter offensive, I highly recommend they put aside their prejudices and read it. Behind the labels we’re all inflicted with, whether we like it or not, the author shows us people with wants and desires different from our own are, in the end, merely people.

I give the author four stars for this book.

Review of ‘Dead Man Falling’

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Ace secret agent Johnny Fedora has an assignment that he would really pass on. He must track down a former Nazi whose identity he has no idea of, find a cache of stolen diamonds that might not even exist, and to do both, he must climb a treacherous mountain, and he hates mountains. When he witnesses a murder on the train ride to Vienna, Austria, he is sucked into a whirlwind of death, danger, and daring. He and the beautiful Marie Andre, posing as his fiancée, go to a tiny Austrian village very near the border of the Russian zone, where he finds a group of former Nazis living in the open, almost taunting him with their presence.

Dead Man Falling by Desmond Cory, is non-stop action a la James Bond, only, it takes place in the period immediately following World War 2, so there are no laser weapons or sleek cars, just good old fashioned guts and glory spying from the old school.

Cory paints a colorful picture of postwar Austria. He takes some liberties with history, for example, positing that Eva Braun bore Hitler a child, survived the Berlin bunker, and ended up in Austria with Hitler’s teenage son. You’ll be so caught up in the story, though, trying to identify the bad guys, you’re likely, as I did, to forgive this bit of artistic license. Besides, he tied it up neatly, so history is safe. The same can’t be said for the villains, though. Johnny Fedora makes 007 look like a wimp.

Oh, and after reading this, I’ve taken mountain climbing off my bucket list.

I found the ending to be a bit anti-climactic, so I’m only giving him four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Gone’

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Hutchinson Kemp and his family are missing. The house is empty, but the TV is still on and there’s unfinished food on the table. No one knows where they are, but Sheriff’s Detective Jason Rondeau is certain that they did not willingly depart their home. The problem, though, is that Rondeau is coping with his own demons; dealing with a past that won’t leave him be.

Gone by T. J. Brearton is a twisted mystery that follows Rondeau and his colleagues as they race against time, and deal with a secretive organization, in their search for the Kemp family. This story has so many twists, by the end you’ll be dizzy from the ride. It has a little bit of everything that makes a mystery so much fun to read, with a few psychological twists thrown in for good measure. If you like your mysteries to be challenging, you’ll enjoy this story.

I received this book as a gift. I only hope that this is not the last time we’ll see Rondeau on the shelves in the mystery section.

This one gets five stars from me.

Review of ‘Hank Brodt Holocaust Memoirs: A Candle and a Promise’

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Hank Brodt was born in 1927 in the Polish village of Boryslaw, Poland. His family was poor, headed by his mother; his father having died when he was but an infant. When his older siblings left home, Hank was placed in an orphanage where he stayed until his bar mitzvah at the age of 13 in 1939, just as the Germans were invading Poland. Sent to a series of Nazi concentration and labor camps, Hank saw the reality of Nazi atrocities, up close and personal, as friends and fellow inmates were worked to death, committed suicide, or were simply brutally murdered when they were no longer of any use to the regime.

Hank Brodt Holocaust Memoirs: A Candle and a Promise, written by his youngest daughter, Deborah Connelly, is Hank’s story. It’s not a story of survival, or of death, but a more or less matter of fact account of his life, and how, through hope, he was able to survive the horror of the holocaust, and create a new life for himself in America after the war.

This is a story lacking embellishment. Hank’s story, as told to the author, is a simple, yet profound, recitation of the life he led from childhood to the advanced age of 90. Loss, love, death, and redemption are described as events that took place. At times, Hank’s voice comes through loud and clear; it is through hope and strong will that we are able to endure. But, most of all, it is a story of the importance of remembering. We should never forget that ordinary people, through fear and prejudice, are capable of horrendous acts, but at the same time, even when faced with the darkness, some people retain the ability to show compassion.

This is a book that should be read by everyone. While it relates events that are more than seven decades in our past, we should never forget that such horror is always possible, and it’s only through hope and compassion, and knowledge, that we can forestall tragedy.

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

Review of ‘God Saw a Butterfly’

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God Saw a Butterfly by Theresa Chaze is an inspirational parable about Shylon, a butterfly, following her from her time as an egg, through her pupal stage, and to her emergence as a butterfly. Beset by doubts and uncertain of her purpose and identity, Shylon almost lets anger overcome her, but in the end, comes to terms with the cycle of life with the occasional voice of Mother, not to guide her, but to help her see that she makes  her own way through life.

Based loosely on the parable, ‘Where a caterpillar sees death, God sees a butterfly,’ this engaging story is life in a microcosm. Through the humble eyes of a lesser creature, the reader is shown the miracle of life. Despite a few annoying typographical errors, I found this story inspiring and uplifting. The author shows with amazing skill that even the smallest of creatures has something to teach us all.

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

Review of ‘How I Sold 80,000 Books’

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If you’re a writer, you know how hard it can be to write a book. If you’re a published writer, you’ll also know that marketing that book is harder still. How I Sold 80,000 Books by Alina Rutkowska takes some of the mystery out of book marketing. This is a comprehensive breakdown of how the author uses social media and other methods to get books in front of readers, and get them to buy—again and again. Not all of the author’s methods will work for everyone, but there’s sure to be a nugget or two of pure gold here for you, whether you’re just writing that first book, or you’ve already published one or more.

Included in this book are links to book review and promotion sites, a video on the author’s marketing methods, and interviews with other successful indie authors. This is a useful guide to self-publishing that should be in your reference library.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Live Free or DIY’

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Are you a salaried employee who enjoys the work you do, but resent that someone else gets the lion’s share of the rewards for your efforts?  If so, you’ve probably thought of chucking it all and starting your own business. Before you do, though, you’re well-advised to do a little research.

A good place to start is Live Free or DIY by Justin E. Crawford. This short book, short in comparison with most business books, that is, lays out a comprehensive, step-by-step for the budding entrepreneur. It discusses budgeting, business planning, time management, and enterprise structure in easy-to-grasp chapters, complete with illustrative charts and references.

Regardless of your field of expertise, this book, while not the final word on running a business by any means, is a handy reference that you might want to keep handy even after your business is off and running.

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

Review of ‘Keeping with Killers’

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Blake Salinger led a normal, some might even say boring, life as a salesman in London, until one day he’s arrested and charged with killing his father. He’s helped to escape from police custody by a mysterious man with white hair, and the two of them embark upon a madcap journey, trying to evade the police and the mysterious organization that Blake’s father worked for. Blake’s life is turned upside down. He learns that his father, rather than being a staid accountant, is actually a government assassin, his stepmother has framed him for his father’s death, and Greg, the mysterious man who helped free him from the police, has his own agenda.

Keeping with Killers by Adam Nichols is an interesting read. It has a number of chase scenes, fight scenes, and daring escapes, and keeps you guessing as to who the bad guys are. Police procedure is weak, and some of the ‘escapes’ defy logic. The mysterious organization and its devious chief are never identified or satisfactorily explained. These, though, are minor weaknesses. The story is fast-paced, if populated by a few too many characters, and interesting, and like most action-adventure movies, it’s not meant to represent real life. This is, like the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies, meant to be entertaining, and in that regard, it achieves its aim.

I give the author three and a half stars for this book.

Review of ‘A Dead Red Oleander’

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Lalla Baines has her hands full; she’s planning her wedding to Caleb Stone, the county sheriff, keeping her dad’s crop dusting business going, dealing with her aunt wanting to barbecue her dad’s pet goat, and her man-hungry cousin with her eyes on her top pilot; and, that’s just the start of her day. A new pilot turns out to be a CPA on the run from a Vegas hit man, and then has the misfortune to drop dead at a barbecue at her dad’s house. When his wife is tabbed as the main suspect, Lalla is sure she’s innocent, but no one seems to agree, so it’s left to her to prove the woman’s innocence and catch the killer. Unfortunately, the killer has other intentions, and it involves killing Lalla.

Dead Red Oleander by R. P. Dahlke is a fast-paced mystery with lots of action and a Texas-sized dose of humor. There are so many suspects in this story, you almost have to keep a list to keep them sorted out. But, Lalla is a determined sleuth who, with the surprising assistance of her cousin, Pearlie—she of the wandering eye—doesn’t stop until she gets her man.

You’ll be hooked on this story from page one, and won’t want to stop reading until you get to the end. The ending will leave you breathless.

I give this book four stars.

#PoweredByIndie: My Fascinating Journey in Self-Publishing

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Shy and withdrawn as a child, my only solace was found in books, books that I devoured voraciously from the time I was seven or eight years old. The worlds I found between the pages gave me comfort in ways that human contact did not. By my early teens I’d overcome my shyness, but my love affair with the written word endured.

Transitioning from reading to writing was, perhaps, inevitable. I’m not sure when or how it really began, but by the time I was twelve, I was already writing little short stories, creating worlds like the ones I’d encountered in the books I read—but, only for myself.

When I started high school, not long after my twelfth birthday thanks to a special program that put students in grades based on their test scores not their age, I met Paulyne Evans, my home room teacher and the English teacher in my high school, Booker T. Washington elementary and high school in the small East Texas town where I grew up. She helped me get over my shyness, but she also recognized my love of writing, and encouraged it. When I was thirteen, she talked me into entering a national Sunday school magazine short story contest, and to my surprise—but, she insists, not hers—I won first place. The prize was small, about ten dollars, if I recall, but seeing my byline on a piece of writing in a publication that was circulated throughout the U.S. hooked me forever.

After graduating from high school, and without the resources for college, I joined the army. Over a twenty-year career, I often moon lighted as a writer/photographer/artist for local newspapers near the bases where I was stationed, did freelance articles and art for a number of magazines, and wrote poetry. After retiring from the army, I joined the U.S. Foreign Service, and for most of that thirty-year career, I pretty much put my creative writing on hold, except for the occasional opinion piece, book review, or poem. I didn’t return to fiction, or try my hand at a book-length work until about twelve years ago; eight years before I retired from government service.

After four years of rejection slips, I almost gave up on ever being able to get a book published. Then, eight years ago, I got a bite from what at the time seemed like a reputable publisher for two books on leadership. I won’t, for legal reasons, name the ‘publishers,’ just suffice it to say, it was a rip-off. I got hooked into an eight-year contract, and incessant requests that I buy my own books. They haven’t sold well, although the first one did get a few rave reviews, and does still get the occasional sale. My royalties have been miniscule at best. The experience soured me on publishers, and almost killed my desire to write.

Then, I started seeing articles about self-publishing. I researched it, and discovered that many other writers, including some who already had relationships with traditional publishers, were taking that route. This was, unfortunately, just before indie publishing began to be viewed with a little respect, and I was hesitant. But, I finally decided that if others could do it, so could I.

I dusted off a manuscript that I’d been working on for three years, did some rewriting, enrolled in one of the POD self-publishing programs, and after a year, had my book available for online sales in paperback and e-book format.

Surprisingly, it got a few good reviews, and even a few sales, despite being roughly done. I was just learning that self-publishing involved more than merely writing the darned thing; you had to know formatting, editing, and cover design, and . . . yuck . . . marketing. But having a book out there for all to see, and getting even a few sales was energizing. I then dug out my journal in which I’d written down ideas for other books, and started writing seriously.

Over the past eight years, I’ve managed to create a substantial list of published books, fiction, children’s books, and nonfiction, and get modest, but steady, sales in both paper and electronic versions.

More importantly, with each book, I get better—at least in my own opinion—and, I learn something new. I can now format a book’s interior almost as well as a traditional publishing house, I’ve learned to edit my work as if it was written by someone else—which means cutting, changing, or adding  to that first creative outburst with a reader’s eye. I’ve learned to do covers. Oh, none of them will ever win an award, but they’re technically acceptable, and a few of them aren’t half bad. My experience as a photographer, editorial cartoonist and magazine artist helps there.

Am I ready to make the NYT Bestseller’s List? Not hardly. But, I’ve gotten some good reviews, my books continue to sell, and occasionally I get an email from a reader telling me that they found themselves immersed in my book and loving the characters. I get the occasional review that pans a book. I even learn from them. If the criticism is valid, and not just trolling, I make a note of it, and incorporate it into my next book, or as I did in one case, unpublish, rewrite, and republish the book.

Independent publishing has been for me an exciting journey, one that is just beginning. Along the way, I’ve learned some fascinating things, and met some wonderful people. Indie publishing might not be for everyone. It’s a daring thing to do. But, if you want some excitement in your life, and if you want to write, it’s a combination that will change you forever.

Review of ‘One More Day’

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Carrie Morgan turned away for a few seconds to find change for the parking meter. In that short span of time, her son disappeared from the car. Then, 15 months later, he showed back up, at home in his crib, completely unchanged—even wearing the same clothing, only to disappear again after 24 hours. Carrie was sure that would happen, but her husband and friends thinks she’s lost her marbles, and the police are looking at her as a suspect. The suspicion deepens when the child’s body is found in a pond near their house. Carrie has a secret, one that she’s not sure she can share with anyone. She knew that she had only ‘one more day’ with her child because she had prayed for it. She also knows that she’s being visited by spirits of the dead, and one of those spirits brings her news of a secret from her past that even she didn’t know the whole of.

One More Day by Kelly Simmons is an eerie story of loss, hope, and redemption. You’re taken into the mind of the main character, and the author’s skill with the language makes it possible to believe in ghosts.

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

Review of ‘A Mother’s Day Murder’

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Nothing ever happens in the little town of Mt. Abrams, or so the saying goes. Until, that is, something happens. Ellie Roca, recently divorced, like Mt. Abrams because not much happens, and her ex didn’t like it. Then, just before Mother’s Day, her neighbor, the reclusive Lacey Mitchell, disappears, and all hell breaks loose as Ellie and her nosy friends start snooping to find out what happened.

A Mother’s Day Murder by Dee Ernst is a humorous cozy mystery that takes a look at what goes on in small town America. The dialogue is witty, and the plot is well-woven. Despite a few unfortunate typos, I found this an entertaining read. It is an enjoyable confection of mystery, murder, and mirth that I give three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Molding Men’

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In 1907, an occult sect raised a swastika flag and summoned the ‘New Man.’ The Historian answered their call, setting in motion events that would echo down through the ages. In 1942, Theo Engel is running an aircraft parts factory, struggling to keep up with the demands of the Nazi Party, while his young son is off at the Russian front. The Historian shows up, manipulating events, but to what end?

Molding Men by Ray Ronan is a dark, historical thriller with elements of the supernatural entwined seamlessly with actual historical events. The Historian is an enigmatic character, whose motivations are never made quite clear, while at the same time, his actions have a dramatic impact on those with whom he comes into contact. The author does a masterful job of linking the supernatural with historically-known events in a way that has a ring of authenticity given the known obsession many top level Nazis, Hitler included, had with the occult.

As you read this story, you’ll look at events of the past in a new light. Good fiction requires the ability to suspend disbelief, and Ronan has managed that with undeniable skill. Events that are well-recorded by history, but little understood, are given an alternate, and almost believable, way.

The author never clearly explains the history or origins of the Historian, which in most cases, would be a negative mark on a story. But, in this finely crafted thriller, it only adds to the mystery.

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