Month: May 2016

Review of ‘The Conjuring Glass’

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After Penny Sinclair’s mother died in an airplane crash, she was sent to the small town of Dogwood—her place of birth—to live with Susan, her mother’s old friend. Not long after her arrival, she starts to experience strange things; and not just the travails to be expected from being a new teen in a new school. First, she finds it hard to make friends, except for Zoe, another loner. Then, she encounters Ronan, a talking fox, who hints that she is somehow ‘special.’ It’s only after the Red magician and the murderous Birdman show up and start to wreak havoc in Dogwood does she realize just how special.

The Conjuring Glass, book one in the Phoenix Girls series by Brian Knight, follows Penny’s adventures as she is charged with reviving the Phoenix Girls to fight the evil that is coming to Dogwood. While this is a book about young people, mainly for young people, fantasy and adventure lovers of any age will be able to relate to the characters as they rise above their fears and go toe-to-toe with monsters unimaginable.

While the book ends on a satisfying note, there’s enough of a teaser to leave no doubt that book two will be even more entertaining. I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

I give this one four stars.

Voice of The Other

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Anatomy of Perceval Blog

Credit: SkyLightRain.com Credit: SkyLightRain.com

As a writer, I explore the human condition and human behavior. People fascinate me. As I create a character, I ask myself a lot of questions — in fact, I have a list of questions that I go through several times until I feel in my bones that I’ve gotten a character right.  Each character tells me who he or she is, history, desires, goals, friends and family. I listen and write.  There are times when I feel as if I’m channeling a character.  I believe this is how it should be when writing fiction.

Last week at nytimes.com, I read interesting commentary in their “Bookends” feature from Anna Holmes and James Parker entitled “Who Gets to Tell Other People’s Stories?”  When a writer creates a character outside the writer’s own race, gender, sexual orientation, income, and heritage, is the writer operating with empathy or…

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Review of ‘Stilettos & Scoundrels’

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After one too many advances from her lecherous boss, Presley Thurman chucked her high-paying PR job and went back home to her small town, with the thought of pursuing freelance journalism. When a U.S. Senator turns up dead the day after she’s wrangled an interview with him, Pres feels compelled to solve the murder. Well, since whoever killed the senator seems to want her dead as well, she kind of has no choice.

Stilettos & Scoundrels by Laina Turner is the first book in the Presley Thurman series. It introduces a protagonist with spunk, humor, and determination, a strong female character who lives life on her own terms, but who can still experience the occasional heart-fluttering moment without losing her independence or identity. Pres has her faults, but you have to love her despite them.

The action is nonstop—well, almost—and the clues are there for all to figure out. See if you can identify the killer before Pres does. Dollars to donuts says you can’t do it.

Now, having gotten that out of my system, a few negatives. There’s too much head-hopping. Okay to show different characters’ points of view, but best to give each his or her own chapter. Care has to be exercised when switching from third to first person to avoid confusing readers. But, hey, it’s a first novel, and all first novels need work. When you’ve finished a book, it’s the character you remember, not the few grammatical glitches, and I can’t get Presley Thurman out of my mind, so I’m giving it three and a half stars.

#BoycottPaulBlake: A Book Cover Male Model Bullies Authors On Social Media

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Before delving into my latest blog post, I want to thank New York Times and USA Today best selling author Harper Sloan for bringing up an important topic yesterday on Facebook. Be warned some subse…

Source: #BoycottPaulBlake: A Book Cover Male Model Bullies Authors On Social Media

Review of ‘Thunder’

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Selah Rishon Chavez, on the eve of her 18th birthday, captures an elusive Lander, one of the strange, marked people who occasionally wash up on the shore of her community. But, her captive is taken from her by her brothers, taken to be sold to the Company in the Mountain, and to make matters worse, Selah awakens the next morning with the mark of a Lander upon her on flesh. What she learns then will change her entire life, and only the Lander, Bodhi Locke, can help her survive.

Thunder by Bonnie Calhoun is a finely-told apocalyptic tale of a future-America after natural and manmade disasters have reduced the once-great country to a series of feudal settlements. It is the story of a girl who discovers a legacy that explains her troubled life to that point, while at the same time, it threatens to end it.

Riveting storytelling, relatable characters; this one will keep you reading. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Rewire’

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Rewire by Mike Morosov is a short guide to getting your life in order through mindful actions. Short paragraphs containing actions at the end that are useful to people who want to get their life in order. The actions the author prescribes, while simple, can have a profound impact on an individual’s outlook on life, and if practiced faithfully, can show immediate results. A useful book, it would be even more so if the author had gone into more detail—but, that’s just the opinion of someone who has practiced meditation for decades.

As self-help books go, this one has the advantage of being short and easy to read. I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. The theme and intent of the book is definitely five star, but I was a bit distracted by the author’s tendency to change from addressing the reader as ‘you’ in places, and then switching to third person, often in the same paragraph. A minor style glitch that doesn’t really mar the value of the book all that much, but one worth noting. Nonetheless, I give it a solid three and a half stars for a good first effort.

Review of ‘The Sword of the Maiden’

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Separated from Nicolas de Breton during the battle to save Mont Saint Michel from the English in 1424, Katelyn Michaels was sent back to her 21st century life as a high school student. Torn between her love for Nicolas in the past and her family in the present, she is depressed, but begins to experience a sequence of events that seem to be preparing her for another mission as a Watchman.

The mission, she soon learns, is to deliver a sword to the Maiden, the young girl who is destined to defeat the English and save the French nation. But, in order to do so, she must survive the efforts of the fallen angel, Abdon, to kill her.

The Sword of the Maiden by Kathleen Perrin is the second book in the Watchmen series. It skillfully melds historical fact with magic and fantasy as the reader is taken on a fantastic journey through the past. The characters, real and imagined, come alive on the pages, and the drama and action is nonstop. The author has created an amalgam of real and make-believe that is totally believable.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Resthaven’

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Kaylee, a 15-year old, is living in a new town with her mother. When her mom insists she attend a party with a local rich girl, she doesn’t want to go, but is left with no choice. When the girl, a snotty bully, insists on having a scavenger hunt in Resthaven, a derelict rest home bordering her property, Kaylee is even more depressed. Inside the abandoned building, Kaylee discovers a bruised, deaf boy and a violent old man, and then the heat gets turned up when Jamie, the bully, locks her and her friends inside the building.

Resthaven by Erik Therme is a tense young-adult drama, not really a coming-of-age story; more a growing up fast novel. Much of the story takes place inside Resthaven as Kaylee takes charge of getting herself and her friends to safety—and, saving the little boy.

This is a story that will entertain young and old alike. The characters are well-drawn and easy to relate to, and the suspense is palpable.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Memory Man’

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The only person from his hometown of Burlington to ever make it to the NFL, high school football star Amos Decker’s pro career ended after one play. A lucky hit during his first regular season game caused him to momentarily die, but when he was revived, his brain had been rewired. He is now unable to forget anything, and that results in his second ‘death,’ when, after he becomes a successful police detective, his family is brutally slaughtered, sending him off the deep end.

Now, derelict, almost homeless, and grossly overweight, Amos works bottom-feeder cases as a PI. His life changes one day, though, when another apparently homeless man walks into the Burlington police station and confesses to the murder of Amos’s family. While he’s processing this news, a gunman enters the high school which Amos attended and slaughters several students and teachers. Amos is hired as a consultant on the school shooting case because of his ‘memory’ talents. His uncanny memory discovers a connection between the school shooting and his family’s murder—a connection that leads inexorably back to him and something from his past that he cannot remember, and for a man who can’t forget, this is most troubling of all.

Memory Man by David Baldacci is a departure from his usual thrillers. If you like the flawed character, the unlikely hero, you’ll love Amos Decker. Pulse-tingling suspense, gut-wrenching drama—this story has it all.

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

Review of ‘Cappuccinos, Cupcakes, and a Corpse’

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When Francesca Amaro’s mother died, Francesca moved from New York City to her hometown of Cape Bay, MA and took over the family’s coffee shop. When she discovers her neighbor dead, her life takes a strange turn. The neighbor’s son, Matty, an old high school friend, takes a liking to Francesca, and the two of them get together to uncover the small town’s secrets and learn who poisoned Matty’s father.
Cappuccinos, Cupcakes, and a Corpse by Harper Lin is a humorous cozy mystery that maintains a leisurely pace in keeping with the locale, but has enough mystery and false clues to satisfy the most die-hard mystery fan. As an added bonus, the author provides two dessert recipes at the end that are a ‘sweetener’ for foodies.
The author does a masterful job of showing readers the setting and characters in rich detail without giving anything away. You’ll have to work to solve the puzzle before Francesca does, and I’ll bet you a cupcake you’ll be surprised by the ending.
I received this book as a gift, and once I started reading it, I missed a meal in order to finish it. A sweet mystery! I give it five stars and a high five!

Review of ‘Breakdown’

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Dr. Alex Delaware, a psychologist, first met actress Zelda Chase when a colleague asked him to evaluate her young son, Ovid’s mental state. Years later, Zelda, now unemployed, on the street, and gone totally wacko, turns up in his life again. Then, she ends up dead, and Ovid is missing. Alex feels a responsibility toward the child, and with the help of his friend, police detective Milo Sturgis, sets out to find him. What Alex and Milo find instead are unexplained deaths and disappearances that pull them into a morass of greed and evil that even with his experience dealing with the mentally unstable, Alex is unprepared for.

Breakdown by award-winning author, Jonathan Kellerman, is a page-turner that will captivate you from beginning to end, as the two friends dig deeper into LA’s uber-rich underground, and discover just how far the privileged will go to protect their lofty status.

I received this book as a gift. The person who gave it to me is now on my permanent A-list. I’m usually a fast reader, whipping through mysteries in a couple of hours quick reading. This one, though, I had to savor over a period of three days, reading an hour, letting it sink in, and then reading some more. Who am I kidding; I was just trying to make it last as long as possible.

I give it five stars — only because that’s the most available to give.

Review of ‘Legends of Felix: The Journey Begins’

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I’m not much of a gamer, and know very little about the Minecraft games, but when I was offered a free copy of Legends of Felix: The Journey Begins by Felix Ender in exchange for my unbiased review, I accepted it because I like looking at the books available for younger readers. Felix is a farmer who likes tending his crops and going on the occasional adventure. When he and his dog, Roxy, go into the village to get supplies, and an upgrade for his sword, he finds himself having to play hero to save the village from a zombie attack.

One doesn’t have to be familiar with the Minecraft games to enjoy this book, and I think young readers will be amused and entertained by it. It reads like the script of a game, with increasing levels of difficulty that the hero must overcome in order to prevail.

There were a few typos, but nothing fatal. I noticed that the author’s name on the Amazon listing for the book is different than it is on Goodreads, which is strange.

An interesting story with challenges, a beginning, middle, and a satisfying conclusion. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Athar’

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There have been many books written about the Jewish experience during World War II. Athar by Shlomo Kalo is a Holocaust novel that will stand out from all the others. It tells the author’s experiences as a teen-age partisan in a concentration camp for Jewish criminals in his native Bulgaria. Day-to-day life is outlined in stark, uncompromising terms. The author’s style is unique, a kind of staccato, stream-of-consciousness writing that flits from thought to thought, image to image, much like the mind does. This choppy style will probably be off-putting to some readers, but I think it conveys the sense of desperation and surrealism of the period most effectively. This is not an easy book to read, and not just because of the author’s style. It lays bare the reality of life in a situation when there is little or no hope, and when prisoners are stripped of their humanity, becoming ‘sub-animals.’ It punches you in the gut, and then while you’re curled in a fetal position, clutching your midsection in agony, it kicks you in the face. This is one hard journey, though, that you’ll thank yourself for taking.

Review of ‘The Flame and the Arrow

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Annika Brisby is an aspiring rock star. When she breaks up with her boyfriend, she’s unsure where her life is heading, so she accepts an invitation from her uncle, Vince, to join him in Bulgaria. While there, she encounters a strange young man and two young women in a book store. Later, when she meets them again in the forest, she follows and is pulled through a portal into a world that she could never have imagined; a world where she learns her heritage.

The Flame and the Arrow by Emigh Cannaday is a strange tale, with elements of science fiction, magic, and modern life, melded together in an enchanting, and at times humorous, mélange that will delight you regardless of your genre preference. Oh, and it has a few steamy scenes that romance devotees will enjoy.

Cannaday has woven a fascinating tale that you’ll find hard to put down. It’ll make you laugh and cry in turns, and leave you panting for more. Meet Annika Brisby, a new-age heroine with some old-fashioned ideas of love, life, and adventure.

A four-star opening salvo to what I predict will be a fascinating series.

6 Tips to Create a Rockin’ Awesome Book Cover

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I have seen some terrible book covers over my many years of reading, from big publishers to the small indie published. Having seen too many covers like this, I devised these 6 tips to help give peo…

Source: 6 Tips to Create a Rockin’ Awesome Book Cover

Review of ‘The Martian’

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One of the first humans to set foot on Mars, after a freak storm and an accident that caused his crew to think him dead, Mark Watney was left behind to potentially become the first human to die on the Red Planet. A botanist, and something of a rebel, Watney decides to survive.

He uses his botanical and engineering skill, as well as his stubborn will to live, to find a way to survive, and when NASA discovers he’s still alive, all stops are pulled out to find a way to bring him home. When his crew mates, still in space aboard the Hermes enroute to Earth, learn he’s survived, they too decide they will do what it takes to recover him.

The Martian by Andy Weir is a riveting thriller that follows Mark’s log that he’s decided to leave behind just in case he doesn’t survive, so that the world will know what he did, and the bureaucratic and political maneuvering on Earth as a government organization must step way outside its normal procedures to achieve the impossible. This is a book that pleases on a number of levels. On the one hand, the ‘Robinson Crusoe, lost in space,’ aspect of the main character is an outright adventure story. As a non-scientist, I can’t vouch for the scientific and technical details, but the way they come through in Mark’s journal sounds credible. When the story veers away from Mark to NASA, we see people operating within an impersonal bureaucracy in unique and sometimes startling ways. Finally, while the response of Mark’s crew to the news that he’s still alive only takes up a small part of the book, other than his efforts to stay alive, these are some of the most dramatic and telling moments in the story. Anyone who has ever been in combat, or in a first-responder crisis situation will recognize the impulse to risk all to save a comrade, and cheer the crew of Hermes on as they overcome obstacle after obstacle to ‘bring their buddy back alive.’

I’ve not seen the movie, but I seriously doubt that it could be any better than the book, which allowed me to use my imagination to see, hear, and feel what was  happening. Normally, I describe a book like this as impossible to put down. This one, though, I read over a period of two months, taking my time to carefully absorb every word, every nuance, and I’m glad I did. This is a story that will stay with me for a long time.

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

Review of ‘Hostile Witness’

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When 16-year-old Hannah Sheraton is arrested for the murder of her step-grandfather, and the DA decides to try her as an adult, her mother turns to her old college friend Josie Bates for help. Once a top defense attorney in the big city, Josie has chucked it all and moved to a small town to work on less demanding legal cases. She’s reluctant at first to take the case, but when she meets Hannah, she’s drawn to the girl and decides to give her the best possible defense.

Hostile Witness by Rebecca Forster follows Josie as she is mired in a dysfunctional family’s problems and begins to uncover secrets that are best left unknown. This is a chilling legal thriller, with what appears to a layman like me to be credible and suspenseful courtroom scenes. But, the thing about story that sucks you in and never lets you go is the human drama that the author handles with consummate skill. From Hannah’s struggle with OCD to Josie’s unresolved angst over being abandoned by her mother, human emotions are revealed layer by layer like peeling an onion, and like peeling an onion, it’ll bring tears.

Bit by tormented bit, the reader is taken through a case that has more twists and turns than a roller coaster, and an ending that sneaks up and smacks you in the kisser with the force of a sledgehammer.

I received this book as a gift, and just had to review it. Forster is a master of her craft. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Need to Find You’

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Yasmine Weeks, a drummer in a punk band, is given a phone by her friend, Mikiela Bellows with the plea that she protect it. Unsure what is on the phone, she is nonetheless determined to honor her friend’s request, even when she learns that it has information about famous author, Robert Cornish, a writer she knows nothing about. Whip Billings is an ex-cop who left Maine for Oregon to detox after getting hooked on drugs and alcohol during an undercover assignment with the Maine state police. Back home to attend his mother’s funeral, he’s asked by a crack dealer acquaintance to find his step-daughter, Mikiela, who has gone missing, and is feared in the clutches of the enigmatic and cruel drug lord known only as the Viking.

Yasmine’s path crosses with Whips when bodies start piling up in the wake of the Viking’s goons who are trying to kill her and retrieve the phone, which reportedly contains information that would damage the writer’s reputation, a reputation jealously guarded by his reclusive son.

Need to Find You by Joseph Souza is a knuckle-biting thriller that follows their torturous trail as they dodge assassins and betrayal at the highest levels of the local government. At the same time, it takes a dive into the deep end of the pool of human emotions as both wrestle with the demons of their past and their uncertain futures.

Fast-paced and gritty, this is a book that you shouldn’t start reading unless you have a few free hours ahead of you, because it’s impossible to put down until you reach the startling climax. It has a bit of everything, from police corruption to drug dealing to human trafficking, and a large dollop of intense internal emotions. You’ll get to know the two main characters as well as you know your next door neighbors, as they get to know each other—and themselves.

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

Review of ‘Perceval’s Secret’

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Evan Quinn is an orchestra conductor who only wants to make music. Unfortunately, his mentor was an opponent of the repressive government that governs the U.S., as was his father, a famous writer. While in Austria on a government-approved tour, Evan defects. The police detective assigned to his case is suspicious of his motives, made all the more so because of the interest shown in him by an American intelligence agent assigned to the embassy in Vienna. What none of them know, though, is that Evan is concealing a deadly secret—one that could endanger not just his life, but the lives of everyone around him. The biggest danger Evan faces, though, is not external, but inside his own mind.

Perceval’s Secret by C.C. Yager is a chilling story of the world’s near future, with an emphasis not on the amazing technology, but on the personal relationships people have with technology, politics, and each other. Tautly written, this story takes us inside the mind of a man tormented by demons of the past and fears for the future. The author goes into almost too much detail about music in places, but in the end, it’s Evan’s relationship with music that defines the story, giving the reader a sort of musical Manchurian Candidate.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Murder Times Nine’

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Charles Lee is a detective faced with tracking down a serial killer who leaves Sudoku puzzles as clues at the scene of his murders. With the help of his two computer savvy children, he frantically tries to determine the code left in the killer’s clues before he kills again—and again.

Murder Times Nine by J. F. Pratt is a fast-paced mystery with a compelling theme. It would be a much better book if the author had stuck to one main point of view, or at most, just included a few chapters from the killer’s point of view. There were also too many digressions as motives, history, and technical details were provided that made it too easy to figure out the clues.

This is an interesting theme that would make a great movie, but the book is too filled with unnecessary data dumps to work well as a thriller. The use of Sudoku puzzles is an interesting technique, and the author is to be applauded for coming up with this new wrinkle.

A great theme, but I must give it three for execution.