Month: December 2015

Review of ‘Deadly Straits’

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Maritime engineer Tom Dugan is a part-time informant for the CIA, but when he’s implicated in a hijacking and then asked to spy on his long-time friend and client, shipping company owner Alex Kairouz, he’s plunged deeper into the murky world of secret intelligence than he’d ever imagined possible.

Multiple attacks, including a tanker found adrift near Singapore with its crew murdered, and a deadly attack in the Panama Canal, deepen the mystery; leaving Dugan to believe that an even deadlier attack is still imminent.

Dugan teams up with British Intelligence, a determined Panamanian cop, and a Russian special operations team to head off a disaster that could kill tens of thousands and plunge the world into war.

Deadly Straits by R. E. McDermott is an ace thriller, covering the globe from the pirate infested waters near Singapore, to the Panama Canal, to the beautiful Bosporus Straits, and is laced with a thrill a minute and details of ships and shipping that could only come from someone who has had long experience on the briny. Layered with political intrigue, this is a book for the diehard thriller fan.

One of the better thrillers I read in 2015. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Bones of Others’

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As a young girl, Skye Cree was brutally assaulted by Ronny Wayne Whitfield. But, Skye is a survivor, and with her Nez Perce spirit guide, the wolf Kiya, she is, as a young women, determined to use her ability to protect others. Traumatized by the childhood incident, Skye avoids intimate contact with men until she saves Josh Anders, CEO of a game company, from muggers, and sparks fly between them. For the first time in her adult life, Skye is in love. But that love is threatened when she learns that Whitfield is out of jail, and young girls are going missing.

The Bones of Others by Vickie McKeehan tells the story of Skye and Josh as they vow to track Whitfield down and bring him to justice. As they peer deeper into the missing person cases, though, they discover that it’s more than just a single predator attacking young women, they find an international trafficking operation involving dozens. McKennan does a fantastic job of keeping a reader guessing until the end—will Skye and Josh prevail, or will they too become victims? Though this story contains elements of the supernatural, it is told as a mystery thriller, complete with enough action to appeal to the most rabid fight junkie. At the same time, the author handles Skye’s awakening feelings for Josh with astonishing tenderness.

Once you start reading this book, you won’t be able to put it down. I look forward to further adventures of these two extremely likeable characters.

I give McKeehan four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Justification for Murder’

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After an undercover operation gone bad left him with one eye, former Seattle cop, Darcy Lynch took a desk job in a quiet town—or so he thought. Happy to answer the phone and deal with hit-and-run accidents, he’s nonplussed when a hit-and-run call turns into an attempted murder. He wants off the case, but his boss won’t pull him off, and he develops a personal interest in the intended victim.

Detective Erik Sorensen is assigned to a couple of weird suicides, and is running into nothing but dead ends, until he and Lynch find out that their cases overlap in a bizarre way.

Justification for Murder by Elin Barnes is a well-done mystery that has elements of police procedural and cozy entwined with lots of wry humor. While Lynch is the main protagonist, Sorensen, as his sidekick, plays a significant role. The two together make a sort of male Cagney and Lacy cop team that works in a dysfunctional kind of way.

Punchy dialogue and taut action, with more information about dogs than you’ll probably ever need to know—it doesn’t add too much to solving the mystery, but helps give a deeper understanding of the character. After all, who doesn’t like a person who likes and understands dogs?

Read this book in one day—a rainy day, at that. Couldn’t put it down until I was finished. Four stars!

Review of ‘So Much Owed’

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When Dr. Richard Buckley returned to him home in Dunderrig after service in France in WWI, he was disillusioned with war and only wanted to be with his family. Returning with him was Solange Allingham, the widow of his best friend. Unfortunately, Buckley’s wife, Edith, bitter at him for serving in the British Army, sworn enemies of the nationalist Irish, becomes even more withdrawn after the birth of twins, James and Juliet, leaving them to Solange’s care. Eventually, Edith leaves him and goes to Dublin where she eventually marries a German national, despite never having officially divorcing.

The twins grow up under Solange’s care, considering her more their mother than the woman who gave birth to them. As the world enters the horror unleashed by the rise of Hitler in Germany, the twins grow into adulthood and their lives take divergent paths—paths that threaten the unity of the Buckley family.

So Much Owed by Jean Grainger is a stirring tale of the horrors of war and its impact on one family during a time of cataclysmic change. It reveals the depths of human emotion; love, betrayal, loyalty, and bravery in a way that most novels only touch on sketchily. The author takes a reader into the hearts and minds of the characters in such a way you come away feeling as if you know them as well as your next door neighbor—or best friend. This is s book that will bring tears to your eyes while at the same time leave you with a warm feeling in your heart.

The era comes alive under this author’s skillful hand. I give this book five stars without hesitation.

Review of ‘Swindle Town’

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PI Gen Delacourt is hired by the owner of an exclusive club to find out why her club has so many missing wine bottles. Her investigation leads to another exclusive club where she finds the patrons are victims of a scam being run by the club’s beautiful owner, Amanda Grant. Then, to add to her complications, she’s hired by Amanda to find out who is sending her threatening notes. Gen’s life takes an unexpected turn when Shiloh James, a childhood friend of her boyfriend, SFPD detective Mack Hackett, becomes romantically involved with the owners of both clubs.

Swindle Town by Molly Greene, the fifth book in the Gen Delacourt mystery series, is a different kind of mystery. While there’s plenty of action, unlike other mysteries, there aren’t dozens of corpses piling up page after page; just a finely-crafted story with enough twists and false leads to keep you wondering who the bad guy or gal is until Gen wraps it up and ties it with a beautiful bow near the end.

Greene handles her characters well, so well that you love some and feel sorry for others—the hallmark of fine fiction. I’d love to give this book five stars, but there were a few too many typos, so I’m giving it only four.

Review of ‘Sir Princess Petra’s Mission’

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Having obtained her knighthood at the age of nine, despite her father’s strenuous objections, Sir Princess Petra of the Kingdom of Pan Pieyu is still not out of the woods. The king is still busy writing silly rules designed to transform Petra into a girly-princess, a transformation she’s willing to do anything to avoid.

When he writes yet another inane rule, sending Petra on a mission to capture the first ever car-panther, a quest she must undertake alone, she has to use all her wits to get around the impossible task. She uses her knowledge of his byzantine rules to point out that, as a knight, she can choose her own steed—and, for this, she selects her dragon friend, Snarl. She is also accompanied by Bograt, the bog witch, who is also a knight—the only other knight in the hapless kingdom, thanks to Petra’s ingenuity—and, the three find themselves bogged down in a boggy land of puny knights and elves who turn out to be anything but enemies.

I received a free copy of Sir Princess Petra’s Mission by Diane Mae Robinson in exchange for my unbiased review. I found this an enchanting little book that is perfect reading for the young end of the young adult demographic. It’s filled with wry humor and titillating prose, sort of Dr. Seuss without the rhyme. In addition, it has lessons for young people, especially young girls, about the power of persistence, self-confidence, and loyalty that will seep into young readers’ minds without seeming like lessons.

If you want to get your young ones off to a good start with their reading—learning while they’re being entertained—I can’t think of a better book to start with. This is the third book in the Sir Princess Petra series, and I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Daedalus Code’

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Agents Phaedra and Aegus, agents of New Crete’s Intelligent Data Enforcement Agency (IDEA) are tasked to find five missing AI students. Their investigation leads them to a mysterious hacker known as The Cretan. With The Cretan’s help, they learn of a rogue AI program called the Daedalus Project that threatens the freedom of society.

The Daedalus Code by Colin F. Barnes is a short novella that tracks Phaedra and Aegus as they bore deep into the AI networks of New Crete, putting their trust in an unproven lawbreaker, The Cretan, and their lives and careers on the line.

An imaginative story that is filled with action and future technology that science fiction fans will thoroughly enjoy.

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

Review of ‘The Emerald Quest’

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Thirteen-year-old Noah Winter has been diving with his parents since he was ten. During a dive on the wreck of the San Isabel, a passenger liner, he finds a strange piece of porcelain. His parents found an old spy glass which is the key to the location of the De La Rosa emerald, which the descendant of the original owner has hired them to find. A ruthless competitor, however, is determined to beat the Winters to the missing jewel, and is willing to go to any lengths to do it.

The Emerald Quest by Renee Pawlish is a young adult action adventure novel that follows Noah as he tries to stay one step ahead of the villains, while at the same time save his parents who have been kidnapped. Even though this book was written for young adult readers, it will appeal to older action fans as well. Young Noah is not a cardboard teen action junkie, but a true-to-life character who is skillfully portrayed. The action scenes, though a bit fanciful in places, keep the pulse racing as you read.

The author seems to know her way around boats and diving. All in all, an outstanding adventure read.

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

Review of ‘Hollywood Dirty’

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LAPD Detective Kate Sexton and her canine partner, Bernie, are assigned to investigate the murder of Olympic gold medalist Jezzie Rose, a case that had been mishandled by the detectives previously assigned to it. Things become complicated when Kate learns things that lead her to believe the prime suspect, the dead girl’s boyfriend, might not be the killer, and then the chief of police allows the media to become involved in her investigation.

Hollywood Dirty, book four in the Hollywood Alphabet series, by M.Z. Kelly, is a rip-roaring funny story of a woman whose love life is in tatters, and who is also obsessed with finding the man who killed her father, while at the same time having to cope with a houseful of roommates who come across like escapees from a looney bin. At the same time, it has all the elements of a top-flight mystery; clues aplenty, more suspects than you could comfortably fit into a lineup, and action scenes that will satisfy readers who like a little blood in their mystery stories.

Kelly nailed the Hollywood scene square on the head, and has set the bar high for others in the genre. On this Christmas Day I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Blood Ridge’

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After Jon Sommers fiancée, Lisa, is killed in a terrorist attack, he’s visited by Israeli spymaster Yigdal Ben-Levy who informs him that Lisa wasn’t a graduate student, but a Mossad agent sent to recruit him. Moreover, Ben-Levy wants Jon to join Mossad to get justice for Lisa’s murder by going after the terrorist who staged the attack. After his training is completed, and on his first mission, Jon’s entire team is killed. He escapes, but is captured and forced to become a double agent for MI-6—resulting in a Mossad death warrant against him as a warning to any future turncoats.

Sound exciting? Believe me, it is. Blood Ridge by D. S. Kane is a fast-paced, yet nuanced thriller novel. It’s not overloaded with technical details; just enough to enhance credibility, but is rich with the intrigue that is the stuff of espionage and the people who ply this murky trade.

Kane knows how to tease readers, but not so much as to turn them off. Instead, he entices them deeper and deeper into his story until, like the spider, he has them trapped.

A good read. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Fireseed One’

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After climate change has so altered the world’s weather, populations are concentrated in the northern part of the globe, and divided into ocean and land domains that live in wary suspicion of each other. Varik Teitur is an 18-year-old sea farmer, struggling to keep his farm afloat after the drowning death of his father. One day Varik catches a thief in his father’s seed vault, and with this one incident he’s set on a path from which there is no turning back. He becomes involved with Marisa Baron, a spoiled, wealthy daughter of one of the most influential men in the land domain, who also happens to be an eco-terrorist. Maris entices Varik to accompany her into the hot-zone in the south, which holds the secret to Fireseed, a project that Varik’s father was working on before his death.

Fireseed One by Catherine Stine is an intriguing post-apocalyptic story. A fresh and different look at what the world might look like if nothing is done about climate change, and a chilling look at how human relations might develop. The characters, despite the situation, are as familiar as the guy working in the adjacent cubicle, or your next door neighbor. Stine has an authoritative voice and tells a great story.

Four stars for this one.

Review of ‘This Doesn’t Happen in the Movies’

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This Doesn’t Happen in the Movies by Renee Pawlish is book one in the Reed Ferguson mystery series. Reed is visited by an attractive woman who wants him to find her ‘dead’ husband. He has reservations, but needs a paying case to establish his credentials as a PI—also; did I mention she was beautiful?

He is again certain the case is a lemon when his client informs him that she was planning to have her husband killed, but changed her mind. Reed, however, is hooked. Like the cat, though, his curiosity could get him killed, despite the help of his neighbor Willie and his friends, the half-wit brothers, Ace and Deuce.

This is noir fiction at its best. Witty, gritty dialogue—without unnecessary profanity—and implicit physical attractions that are never explicitly described, making it acceptable reading for mystery fans with tender dispositions.

I’ve read some of the subsequent Reed Ferguson mysteries, so it was a treat to read the book that started it all. I’m giving Pawlish five stars for this one.

Review of ‘The Bookmaker’

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Trent Oster is a small-time bookmaker and debt collector in Huntington Beach, California. He’s also a wannabe writer. When he’s offered the chance to write the biography of Preston Walker, the alleged mastermind of some of the most controversial murders in America, he jumps at the chance.

The Bookmaker by Chris Fraser takes history as we know it and turns it on its head. The characters are complex and the plot has more twists than a ball of yarn after a cat’s played with it. It’s fiction, just keep telling yourself that as you read, but there’s just a tinge—a hint—of veracity to this convoluted tale of one man’s quest for revenge; enough to make you wonder whether or not the conspiracy stories just might be true.

Fraser’s a master at taking known facts, dressing them up in a cloak of fantasy, and sucking you into his tale, and with a touch of humor to ease the tension. I give him four stars for a great effort.

Review of ‘The Devil’s Concubine’

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Qui Tai, the Wolf-slayer, is the ruthless concubine of Petrov, the Devil, who is the leader of a band of werewolves who control crime in Ponong. When Qui Tai’s ex-lover is murdered, only her sworn enemy, the disgraced Thampurian Kyam Zul knows the identity of the killer. But Kyam will only reveal the name if Qui Tai promises to help him.

The Devil’s Concubine by Jill Braden is a hard novel to categorize. Set in a mythical world containing werewolves, shape shifters, and all manner of beasts, it could be seen as a fantasy. But, there are also elements of science fiction, and a large dollop of just plain thriller. Braden has done an excellent job of creating a believable fantasy world, and her characters are easy to develop feelings for—love or hate. The murky relationship between Qui Tai and Kyam is perhaps the best part of this story of a character who must deal with her internal demons while trying to save her people. There’s enough here to please fans of the fantasy genre, with enough action thrown in to keep adventure junkies reading.

While it ends with almost all of the loose ends tied up, the question of Qui Tai’s feelings for Kyam, and what becomes of him was left hanging, which was a bit disappointing, but not enough that it kept me from thoroughly enjoying the story that unfolded. A solid five-star story!

Review of ‘September Rain’

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After six years of incarceration, Angel Patel is preparing for a hearing to determine her fate. She must convince the panel that it was her one-time friend, now sworn enemy, Avery Campbell, who is actually the guilty party.

In September Rain by A.R. Rivera, the reader is given a look inside Angel’s tortured mind as she relives her relationship with Jake, the first person she has ever loved, and how Avery in a jealous rage killed him. Rivera’s deft touch with the language makes this a riveting read as she shows Angel’s reactions to her surroundings and her encounters with Avery in jail. So skillful is the author in the way she puts the story together, the ending will hit you like a haymaker thrown in the dark—I’m a fan of whodunits, but this ending caught me completely by surprise.

A book that will leave you breathless.  Rivera has outdone herself with this one – I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Billion Dollar Spy’

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The Billion Dollar Spy
by Pulitzer Prize winning author David E. Hoffman is a riveting tale of one of the CIA’s most successful espionage operations, conducted in the heart of the former USSR, right under the noses of the vaunted KGB. Based on unclassified CIA reports and interviews with individuals who were intimately involved, the story of Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer in one of the Soviet’s secret military labs, who voluntarily offered some of his country’s most closely-guarded secrets to the Americans, reads like fiction—but, it’s real.

Hoffman pieces together a compelling story of Tolkachev’s life and death, and the story of American spycraft during the early years of the CIA’s efforts to define its role in the life and death struggle between the two superpowers. He presents an in depth assessment of the CIA’s efforts to recruit and run spies inside the Soviet Union during a time when the prevailing notion in the U.S. was that this was an impossible task; when the agency was hamstrung by a dearth of experienced personnel, by bureaucratic impediments, and by betrayal within the ranks of our intelligence organization.

Using declassified documents, interviews, and a masterful way with words, Hoffman paints a sometimes depressing picture of American efforts to solve the problem of conducting effective spy operations in an oppressive state where every interaction was under the close scrutiny of one of the KGB, a state security apparatus that had honed its skills over decades under the hand of Stalin, and where every aspect of people’s lives was controlled by an oppressive state. It also shows how one man, a neophyte in the espionage world, but determined to overcome the strictures imposed by a regime he hated, was able to do what highly trained agents were unable to do—expose some of the most closely guarded secrets in the world. Tolkachev’s life and death is presented in detail, and his final betrayal, not through the efforts of the KGB, but due to the betrayal of two of the most notorious traitors in American history, Edward Lee Howard, a CIA trainee washout seeking revenge against the CIA, and Aldrich Ames, the CIA’s most famous traitor, will leave the reader seething in anger and frustration.

This is past history; overtaken by the demise of the USSR and other world events that claim today’s headlines, but it is instructive nonetheless. It shows how bureaucracy and complacency can undermine the most carefully crafted plans, and the dangers when we allow preconceived beliefs and notions to lead us down dangerous paths.

This is a book that is highly recommended to anyone who wants to know more about the dark days of the Cold War, and the battles that were fought out of the glare of media scrutiny. It is a fitting tribute to all the unknown heroes of an era that still defines the world we live in today.

I received a free copy of The Billion Dollar Spy as a gift, and though I had a long list of books to review, I happened to open this one out of curiosity. Once I started reading it, though, I found myself unable to stop until I reached the end. This is a history that is mostly unknown to the MTV/CNN generation, and that’s truly tragic, because these are the events that have shaped the world we live in today.

If you only have time to read one book before 2015 ends, this is the one I recommend.

 

Review of ‘Keep the Ghost’

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Have you ever read a book that you started thinking it was one thing only to get halfway through and realize that you’re reading something else entirely—but, by that time, you’re so caught up in the story you don’t care? That’s the way you’re likely to view reading Keep the Ghost by Scott Kelly.

When Kayla McPherson decides to fake her suicide and talks Irish exchange student Sean Reilly into helping her, he reluctantly goes along. When her body is found with its throat slashed, Sean is arrested for the murder. But, he’s innocent. Problem: he has no way to prove it. The mysterious man, Jack, who was supposed to be helping Kayla, doesn’t exist. Then an even more mysterious woman, Morgan, shows up and bails Sean out of jail and takes him on the wildest ride of his life.

Kelly takes the reader on a wild ride with this story as well as Sean gets deeper and deeper into a scam that has unfortunately turned murderous. Morgan introduces him to Mr. Banks, the brains behind the operation, but has to try and stay one step ahead of her abusive husband who now knows she’s alive. She also has to teach Sean how to avoid the police—a task made more difficult by Jack’s betrayal.

Curious? You should be by now. A fast-paced story that will grab you by the throat and not let go until it reaches a surprising end.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Fossil River’

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Starved for oil and on the brink of a nationwide blackout, the U.S. faces an uncertain future until a previously unknown fossil fuel deposit is found in a remote national park in northern Alaska. In a desperate move, the President orders the military to move in to secure the deposit for exploitation. What they encounter, though, is beyond anything they’ve ever before experienced; a colony of living fossils, the most dangerous predators to ever live, still live, and their territory happens to be where the oil is. They’re prepared to fight to the death to protect their nesting grounds. It’s left to wildlife expert and war hero, Scott Chandler, and paleontologist, Kimberly Fulton, to find a way to get the oil, while at the same time preserving these living remnants of a long-past age. Their quest is complicated by the rashness of the military and its belief that its weapons and machines can prevail against a predator that has had millions of years to evolve, and possesses the intelligence to be a more than formidable foe, and Fulton’s son, Ken, who is lost in the park with his girlfriend.

Fossil River by Jock Miller is a riveting thriller that tells the gut-wrenching story of their quest to find the kids and avoid a catastrophe. Filled with technical and tactical details that are sure to satisfy fans of military thrillers, this story also pulls back the covers on America’s addiction to fossil fuels and the hubris that can infect those in power who have never before had to face a foe they cannot defeat with force alone.

A page-turner with thrills and chills on every page. There were a few places where the author got his facts wrong; a Marine is never, ever referred to as a soldier – especially by another Marine, and Marines say Hoo-rah, not Hoo-ah, but these few glitches can be forgiven. After all, you’re supposed to suspend disbelief when you read fiction, and only former military people (including yours truly) would notice, or even care. The few flaws don’t damage a chilling tale that could someday be true – maybe. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Courthouse Cowboys’

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When Paige Defalco and her husband, Jack, decided to give up their high-pressure careers as prosecutors in Los Angeles and move to the bucolic locale of Kootenai County, Montana, they thought the pressure was a thing of the past. But, when the poor parents of a young man convicted of murder asks Paige to take his case, she encounters pressure of a kind she hadn’t expected. It’s not the criminals who are a danger, but the courthouse cowboys, the corrupt officials who run the county’s criminal justice system.

Paige soon finds herself excoriated by the local media, under investigation by the State Bar Association, and on the receiving end of threats. Courthouse Cowboys by P. A. Moore is a taut drama that mixes courtroom scenes with backroom machinations that will thrill you at the same time they turn your stomach. Determined to see justice done, Paige and Jack face down the judges, attorneys and cops who have hijacked justice for their own selfish aims.

This is a book written with authority and skill that will make you wonder how much justice there really is in the justice system. I give Moore four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Dear NSA: A Collection of Politically Incorrect Short Stories’

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If you find politics depressing, you need an escape. There’s no better way to get relief of the troubles and toils of today’s world than immersing yourself in a fine bit of satire about those very times. Dear NSA: A Collection of Politically Incorrect Short Stories by Harmon Cooper is just what the doctor ordered.

A series of sharp-tongued missives that make light of the serious stuff spewing from the mouths of politicians and pundits these days, this book will have your sides splitting. Cooper takes potshots at everything, and hits the bullseye with every shot. Wacky stories that touch on reality, this is political satire at its best.

Keep ’em coming, Harmon. I’m giving you five stars for this one.