Month: May 2015

Review of ‘Permanent Interests’

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When the American ambassador to Italy, a bungling political appointee with a dubious personal reputation, is brutally murdered in Rome, the Washington bureaucracy is quick to label it a politically-motivated terrorist killing. But, mid-level diplomat Bob Innes, who is thrust into the middle of the mess, thinks it’s a different thing altogether, and in his efforts to prove his thesis, finds himself targeted by bureaucrats attempting to cover up malfeasance, and the Russian mob.

Permanent Interests by best-selling author James Bruno is a compelling story of bureaucracy at its worst, the back-room deals that make Washington the quagmire it is, and how crime and political greed intersect. Underlying non-stop, graphic action there is also a story of human dignity, decency, and love, in a story that will keep you reading from page one.

While I found the description of the Marine Security Guards who stand watch at our embassies a bit off—the commander of the Marine guards is usually a senior sergeant, not a major as Bruno depicts in his story—the story pins the tail very accurately on the bureaucrats in Washington and elsewhere who are often more concerned with their next promotion than in actually doing something useful. Bruno writes about these things with credibility and a ring of authenticity. Sure, it’s fiction. After all, it is a political thriller. But, take it from someone who has worked there, it’s not all that far from the truth. A five star thriller!

Review of ‘The Circle’

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Maryam Bartool, a powerful presence in the stock market, snapped one day and had to be institutionalized. As Patient 128, she comes to the attention of Solomon Lewin, chief psychologist in the institution. During his sessions with her, he is only able to get her to say that she is in danger from The Circle. Suddenly, during one of their sessions, Maryam starts to get her memory back—just as she does, people arrive and try to kill her.

Mario Escobar’s The Circle is a dark psychological thriller that chronicles Maryam and Solomon’s flight to survive. It is well written, suffering only from the author’s tendency to head hop from character to character, often within the same chapter, which at times can be confusing.

This story starts on a dark note of high tension and continues to rise until the startling conclusion. It’s hard to know who the good guys are—if, in fact, there are any good guys left in the world. Kudos to Escobar for creating a world you’ll be glad only exists between the covers of his book, or does it? Four stars.

Review of ‘Hal Spacejock’

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Hal Spacejock is an incompetent space pilot at best, and his ship, Black Gull, is barely space worthy. It’s all Hal can do to stay one jump ahead of his creditors, and he doesn’t have enough credits to even buy an extra pair of boots, or adequate provisions. All he has going for him, in fact, is Navcom, the ship’s navigational computer with an enigmatic personality, until he takes a mission to pick up some robot parts and deliver them to a strong-willed, but vindictive man who gives him 24 hours to deliver or face the consequences. To add to his problems, his employer sends a robot, Clunk, along as his copilot.

Hal Spacejock, book one in the Spacejock and Hal Junior series by Simon Haynes is a hilarious romp through space that will leave you wilted from laughing as Hal and Clunk get up to some almost unbelievable shenanigans in their quest to survive enemies coming at them from all quadrants. How they accomplish an impossible job against insurmountable odds is something you’ll have to read the book to learn.

If you like science fiction with a strong dose of slapstick humor, this is definitely the book to read. A four star read.

Review of ‘Hard Wind’

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Logan Collins, a former Confederate soldier, was languishing in a Mexican jail. When a group of strange men release him, rather than freeing him, he discovers that they’re taking him to a mysterious ‘government’ man named Lawrence for purposes they will not explain. Collins escapes, but is recaptured. He later learns that this man, Lawrence Rothelson IV, is part of a powerful cabal seeking the means to leave the planet, and that he is the key to them doing so. Collins, a drifter, rebel, and general outlaw, finds his faith tested when he meets and falls in love with the beautiful Claire, also a prisoner.

Hard Wind by Guy Stanton III, is the third in a series of sci-fi/westerns with a religious bent, or what the author calls Christian Speculative Fiction, featuring the traditional shoot ‘em up action, science fiction a la Jules Verne, and a religious message interwoven in the story.

The author writes well, and has a clear understanding of the genres; thus he does an effective job of blending them. At times, though, the dialogue drifts into patterns more appropriate to the late 20th century, and the main character learns things rather more rapidly than is totally credible. The ending, while satisfying as far as it goes, seemed just a tad too pat, and left things hanging. While I found this an enjoyable book, being the third in the series, I expected it to match the level of Ice Wind, and it missed the mark. Having said that, I still recommend it as an entertaining weekend read. I give it 3.5 stars.

Review of ‘Wizard Dawning’

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In the late 21st century, climate change has caused a resurgence of magical powers in the world, but Sig, a young man in Minnesota preparing to go to college, magic is something that other people possess. But, one day, when his Grampa Thor visits, they are attacked by zombies brought to life by a dark wizard out to destroy Sig. Sig then learns that not only does he have magic powers that he was unaware of, but so does his grandfather and his mother Madeline. To complicate his life even more, Thor give him a magic amulet that turns him into a Battle Wizard.

In all too short a time, Sig must master his new-found powers, or be killed by the dark wizard.

Wizard Dawning, book 1 of the two-book Battle Wizard Sage series by C. M. Lance, takes us on a wild ride as Sig finds himself battled and betrayed, with betrayal coming from a most unexpected quarter. A nicely-told tale for fantasy lovers, set in a world that we can all identify with, and populated by an amazing cast of characters.

I would give it five stars, but a few too many typos cause me to downgrade it to four stars – still a great read.

Review of ‘Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion’

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Andrea Mann is disenchanted with life and love. She is also enthralled by the poet Arthur Rimbaud, and in particular the lost manuscript of his poem, La Chasse Spirituelle. So, when she finds herself at his grave at Charleville-Mezieres, where she meets a strange young man who claims to be the reincarnation of Rimbaud, she begins her own spiritual chase.

Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion by Barbara Scott Emmett is the story of Andrea’s quest, and at the same time, a parallel story of Rimbaud’s affair with the flamboyant poet Paul Verlaine, and the history of the missing manuscript. The author skillfully weaves the diverse narratives across a great span of time, from the first person point of view of the actors involved in the creation of La Chasse Spirituelle.

Filled with mystery and pathos, this is a literary masterpiece. Five Stars!!!

Review of ‘Hallowed Ground’

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Provender Creed is something of a renegade and outlaw. He lives in the town of Rookwood, a place that doesn’t cotton much to strangers, but he keeps pretty much to himself. Then, a strange group, led by The Deacon, sets up a tent city near town at the mouth of Dead Man’s Gulch, and life changes for everyone—but most importantly, life changes for Creed.

Rookwood was strange before the strangers came, but with them came death and the Devil. Hallowed Ground by Steven Savile and David Niall Wilson is not your typical western. In fact, it’s not your typical story of any genre, containing as it does a bit of everything.

Tight, eerie writing, characters you’d expect to encounter in nightmares, and goings-on that will chill you to your marrow. The Old West was never like this—or was it? Five stars for this story.

Review of ‘It Ain’t Easy’

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Life is seldom easy for a teenager, and when that teen has to grow up in Washington, DC, life can be hell. In It Ain’t Easy, a collection of short stories by Kesia Alexandra, the reader is shown what life is like in that part of the city that’s not monuments and government buildings—from the gritty streets of some of the poorest parts of the city to the privileged halls of its prestigious private schools.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. The author writes with amazing insight for one so young, with gritty dialogue that takes you into the mind and heart of the subject. From a young woman, a single mother, caught up in a tax cheating scam to get by to a scholarship student in an upscale private school embroiled in the he said, she said turmoil of allegations of sexual misconduct, she shows us the part of Washington that definitely ‘Ain’t Easy.’

Despite a few formatting glitches and grammatical and spelling gaffes, this is a delightful collection that showcases a young writer with promise. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Night of the Fae’

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Ana Martin is a 26-year-old who is desperately trying to put her past behind her. She finds herself drawn, physically and emotionally, to Gabriel, but as the relationship develops, she learns that Gabriel has a secret—one that will forever impact her life and the lives of those around her.

Ana learns that Gabriel is a Siis, a creature that can appear human, but that is far, far more than a mere mortal. Furthermore, she learns that she can tap into some of the Siis powers. This makes her a target of the Fae, fairy creatures that were once children, but that are now malevolent beings feeding off the pain and anguish of others, and who are quite deadly. In addition to having to battle the Fae, Ana also finds herself caught up in an ancient battle among the Siis.

Jenkins has done a masterful job of creating alien beings and describing their physical and emotional interactions with the human world. In so doing, she enables the reader to intuit their plane, or planes, of existence. Her depiction of human and non-human emotions is chilling and effective. The reader quickly becomes immersed and enmeshed in Ana’s struggle between her love for Gabriel and her loyalty to her friends.

This book defies genre pigeon holing. It is fantasy, it’s thriller, it’s romance—hell, it’s just about anything you want in a book—a well written story that you will enjoy reading. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Audacity to be a Writer’

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Being audacious is about taking risks, going against conventions and the status quo—which is an excellent definition of a writer—a writer who dares to put his or her work out for public review, that is. But, there is a demon that conspires to make it difficult to be audacious. It’s called the demon of self-doubt. Conquering this demon is the first step on the road to doing what you are meant to do, and that, my friend is, WRITE!

The Audacity to be a Writer: 50 Inspiring Articles on Writing that Could Change Your Life is a collection of posts from Bryan Hutchinson’s The Positive Writer blog that will do just what the title claims: it will change your life for the better.

Written by Hutchinson and several other writing bloggers, these articles are from the most read and commented-on posts that have appeared on The Positive Writer. While they cover the entire spectrum of writing, the most useful are those that address how to deal with the self-doubt that afflicts every writer. Written in the direct, positive style that is the hallmark of The Positive Writer, they offer helpful hints that assist you in the wrenching process of pulling the writer within you into the light. They challenge you to be audacious. They challenge you to write, and they will change your life.

These articles don’t claim that they will make you a perfect writer—only a better writer. All you have to do is what every writer who wants to be better must do, read them, and pay attention to what they have to say. We become better writers by writing every day! So, what are you waiting for? An audacious five stars for this book.

Review of ‘My First Words For A to Z: A child’s first words, Volume 2’

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My First Words for A to Z: A Child’s First Words, Volume 2 by Winston Rose is an introduction to words designed for children aged 3 to 5. It contains an assortment of words, some common, some less so, complete with entertaining illustrations that children will enjoy.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Monster ABCs: An Alphabet book from A to Z’

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Monster ABCs: An Alphabet book from A to Z by Sarah Holmlund is an excellent introduction to the alphabet for young readers. Excellent pictures illustrate the letters of the alphabet and introduce new words that will help any child gain verbal fluency, while at the same time enjoying the experience. Kids will especially appreciate the yellow monster that is drawn in a way that is endearing rather than scary.

Five stars to Holmlund for this entertaining little book!

Review of ‘How to Write Something Interesting’

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Sometimes good things do come in small packages. How to Write Something Interesting  by Amelie Rose is one of those small, good things.

A book on writing for the beginning writer of any age, this brief book is chocked full of advice for those just embarking on the writing journey. It is written simply, and breaks the writing process down into its basic components in a way that anyone can understand.

It is simply written, and simply outstanding, except for a few minor formatting errors, and is as useful for experienced writers as beginners. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Elements of Active Prose: Writing Tips to Make Your Prose Shine’

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If you’re a writer who wants to take your work to the next level of professionalism and excellence, there are three things you really must do. First is reading as much fine prose as your time schedule allows. Second is to write, rewrite, and write some more. The third, and easiest, thing to do—in conjunction with the first two—is to get a copy of Elements of Active Prose: Writing Tips to Make Your Prose Shine by noted author and editor Tahlia Newland.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review, and now I’m waiting for it to come out in paperback so that I can buy a desk copy to keep near my computer as I write. Newland, an accomplished author and professional editor, peels away the mystery of prose writing. She begins by stating emphatically that this is NOT a book of rules; it’s a compendium of guidelines based upon her years as a writer and editor. But, and here I’ll paraphrase her, these are guidelines that have stood the test of time, and while they can be ignored, when it’s appropriate to do so, there are risks attendant upon doing so.

She takes the reader through the writing process in easily digestible chunks, covering such topics as the difference between active voice and active prose, how to write effective dialogue and descriptions, and how to choose the most effective point of view for your story.

This, though, is more than just a book about how to write more effectively. She also includes sections on how to effectively self-edit, and how to review the work of others; distinguishing, for instance, the difference between copy editing and line editing—something that I, as a frequent book reviewer, have often struggled with.

Assuming you’re already proficient in grammar and spelling, and you are familiar with the topic about which you wish to write, this is the most important reference book you could have in your writer’s library. Five stars only because i can’t give it six.

Review of ‘Deadly Aim’

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Angel Delaney is back in her home town of Sunset Cove, Oregon, working for the police force—following essentially in her father’s oversized footsteps. When she and her partner, Eric, respond to a robbery in progress call, she is forced to use deadly force on what she assumes is one of the perpetrators, who turns out to be a 12-year-old who had only a toy gun. Angel’s world spins completely out of control as she is accused not only of a wrongful death, but racism.

When Callen Riley, an Oregon State Police detective, begins investigating the case, along with another death that took place in the same area, and around the same time, a chemistry develops between him and Angel that threatens his objectivity.

Deadly Aim by Patricia H. Rushford is a hard book to categorize. It is a well-written mystery, a love story, and also a story about loss of faith. While some of the police procedures seem contrived to add to the suspense, it does not detract from a taut drama that has an ending that came as a complete surprise.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Relative Malice’

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When four members of a family are slaughtered, and their 10-month-old daughter goes missing, rooky detective Kendall Halsrud is determined to find the child—despite everyone else’s belief that the girl is dead. Homeless after being kicked out by her roommate, Kendall takes a room over a bar, where she encounters an exotic neighbor, a fake psychic and paroled hacker, Brynn. With the assistance of Brynn, and Adam Nashlund, a former cop, Kendall puts her career and life at risk in her pursuit of the truth. In the process, she uncovers family secrets that have lain buried for years.

Relative Malice by Marla Madison follows Kendall and other characters through the murky, distasteful world of pedophiles, baby merchants, and dysfunctional family relationships—a journey that will leave you breathless until the conclusion, that will surprise you.

Madison has enough twists, false leads, and red herrings to keep any mystery aficionado thrilled. Although I found the ending a bit too pat—as if the author felt she’d told enough of the story, and just added it to tie up loose ends—it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read. A good four star read.

Review of ‘Mine’

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Mine by Regina Puckett is a short story about a woman, Alle, who is asked out by a coworker, James. She’s anxious to date him, but floored when she finds out his aim is to take her to an abandoned mental hospital to look for ghosts. In the space of a few pages, the author manages to cram a ton of chills and fear as Alle finds herself alone in the dark with a strange presence that she can’t see, but can feel. When she finally makes her way out, she discovers James dead, and after she calls the police, finds herself under arrest, not only as a suspect in his death, but the eleven other members of the ghost-hunting expedition as well.

Puckett manages to keep the suspense level high throughout, and offers up a twist ending that will catch you totally by surprise. My only complaint about this book is that it has a few too many typos and grammatical errors—not enough to cause me to stop reading, but a bit distracting, bringing down what could be a short story worthy of Edgar Allen Poe.

Reluctantly, because I’d really like to rate it higher, I’m giving it three stars.

Review of ‘Songbird’

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At the age of six, Dani Mays witnessed her alcoholic, abusive father murder her 16-year-old brother Jacey, and then she is essentially abandoned by her mother who is unable to cope with the tragedy. After years in the foster care system, and a string of foster families, Dani has finally found a place she wants to call home, and someone she wants to be with, Reece Tyler. But, she is still haunted by the demons from her past, and bothered by the fact that Reece doesn’t seem to want to be anything but her friend—while she wants more.

Then, people from her past begin to reappear, and she has to learn to face her memories. Songbird by Angela Fristoe takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride with Dani as she finds herself torn between Reece and Colin, the son of one of the foster families to whom she’d once been assigned. Fristoe writes of teen angst like someone who remembers how terrible the teen years can be, but with the deft hand of an author who also knows how to pen a nail-biting thriller. While this is a romance novel for teens, older readers will also find it compelling reading. I give it four stars.