Month: October 2016

Review of ‘Elphie Goes Trick or Treating’

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Elphie is easily frightened, so much so, in fact, that he’s afraid of his own Halloween costume. His friend Fante is brave, and sometimes a bit brash. When Elphie decides to go trick or treating as himself, his kind manner gets him more candy than Fante, but being kind, Elphie shares, and in the end, both win.

Elphie Goes Trick or Treating by mother-daughter team Hagit R. Oran and Or Oran is a cute little story with nice illustrations that demonstrate the importance of friendship and overcoming your fears. This is a nice book to read to pre-readers who are just at that age when they’re starting to vocalize their fears. This book can be helpful in the discussion with them on how to face and overcome those fears.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book. I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Unwanted Dead or Alive’

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Buck Hawkins and Dobie Garrett are cowboys who work for a kind boss on the Singletree Ranch in the Texas Panhandle. When a crooked banker steals the ranch and frames them for rustling and horse stealing, they go on the run. Unable to find work, and wanted by the law, they decide they might as well become outlaws. Unfortunately, they know nothing about being desperadoes, and things just keep going from bad to worse. Then, they meet Marylou Kowalski during a bumbled attempt at robbing a stage, and at gunpoint, she forces them to kidnap her and then makes herself part of their ‘outlaw’ gang. Under her tutelage, they decide to go for one big score, rob the bank run by the crooked banker and hightail it to Mexico.

The idea of the western as comedy is not the usual way one looks at the genre. Except for Blazing Saddles, which was a funny, but only so-so movie, and The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, I don’t recall it really being done well.  Until, that is, I read Unwanted Dead or Alive by Gene Shelton. This book’s has some serious (pun intended) movie potential. As Buck and Dobie flub one attempt of thieving after another, I found myself laughing so hard I almost wet my pants, or as Dobie would say, ‘peeing my jeans.’ It was just that funny. And, by that, I don’t mean in a contrived way. This was written in an authentic style, but it was seriously funny, and is probably a more credible depiction of the Old West than the vast majority of stuff that’s been written about the golden age of the cowboy.

This is a book that will appeal to both western and humor fans. I received it as a gift.

I give it five stars!

Review of ‘Thieves & Wizards’

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The Forlorn Dagger, forged from the stuff of stars, is the only weapon that can kill wizards. It’s been missing for centuries until it shows up in a mysterious collector’s library. Then, Stin, a cunning thief, steals it—unaware of its powers. Stin’s path then crosses with a group of wizards, young princesses training for their destiny, and a young prince out to reclaim his stolen throne. Under the leadership of the wizard, Greystone, Trant, the prince, and a young princess training to become a war maiden, go head to head with Darkstone, a rogue wizard bent on conquest.

Thieves and Wizards by Jaxon Reed is an epic fantasy that spans characters, kingdoms, and times as smoothly as a well-cast spell. Unlike toys that are ‘batteries not included,’ this story has a bit of everything; intrigue, skullduggery, humor, romance, and battle scenes that make the ‘Star Wars’ fight against the Death Star seem mild by comparison.

You don’t have to be a fan of the fantasy genre to enjoy this story; you just have to like a well-told tale.

I received an advanced review copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Last Chance Lassiter’

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Ex-linebacker turned lawyer, Jake Lassiter, is down on his luck. Fired (or quit, depending upon your point of view) from a deep-pocket law firm, his girlfriend’s dumped him, and the Florida bar is after his license for slugging a client. Now working solo from a dump of an office, Jake’s asked by Cadillac Johnson to represent him in a lawsuit against a rapper he’s accused of stealing his signature song. Lassiter is his last hope.

Last Chance Lassiter by Paul Levine is a novella that introduces Jake Lassiter’s beginnings as a private practitioner. The dialogue is gutsy, gritty, and gets to the point, and the characters are memorable. If you’re a Lassiter fan, this is a gem, because it gives more of Lassiter’s back story, and if you’ve not read this series, this will whet your appetite for more.

Rumpled, rowdy, and righteous, Lassiter is everyone’s hero as he rumbles through life, ‘following no rules but his own.’

I received this book as a gift.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Bad Doctor’

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Gideon Box is the world’s best congenital cardiothoracic surgeon. He’s also a weirdo and a psychopath. He curses his patients, his nurses, and anyone else around him when he’s performing surgery. If he has a grudge against you, don’t go to his hospital; he’s likely to let you die from a preventable infection. When he’s not in the OR, he’s likely to be in someone else’s home, pretending to be them, or in a strip joint paying for lap dances.

When he pulls the stolen identity/lap dance stunt with Willow and her fellow stripper, bad things begin to happen—even worse than usual. First, he robs the women of the money he’d paid them plus what they’d made from dancing, which leads them to return the next day and, assuming the woman in the house is his wife, kill her and steal what little money she has. Then, Willow’s doper boyfriend, Bobby, kidnaps him, snags the girls, and head to the countryside to get his revenge, whereupon in his drug-addled state, he shoots himself and Box, instead of saving him, kills him by packing nutmeg into his open wound (who would have thought nutmeg could kill you>).

It just gets crazier and more complicated from there, and if you want to know how this wacky story turns out, you’ll have to read Bad Doctor by John Locke. The first in the Doctor Gideon Box series, one has to wonder what worse can the good (bad) doctor get up to. The story can be a bit confusing as it switches from Gideon’s first person point of view to other characters’ third person, but if you’re the patient type, it all starts to make a little sense near the end. It’s a bit hard to root for a main character who is such a bad person, and impossible to like him, but like a house fire or an auto accident, you feel compelled to look.

I give it three stars.

Review of ‘Oliver and Jumpy: 55-57’

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Oliver and Jumpy: 55-57 by Werner Stejskal has three beautifully illustrated stories of the kind I’ve come to enjoy in this series. Oliver, the elegant tom cat, helps save his friends from a flood and teaches them the value of working together in ‘Flood;’ in ‘Lazy Squirrel,’ he teaches a lazy squirrel that it’s wrong to steal from others, and in ‘’Unexpected Lory,’ when his cousin, Lory, runs away from home and drops in on him looking for adventure, he teaches her the importance of listening to your parents.

Each of these little stories is entertaining, while at the same time teaching an important life lesson to young people. These make great bedtime stories for young ones, either having them read, or if they’re early readers, reading it themselves.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘The Last Mile’

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Amos Decker has been hired by the FBI to become part of a special task force. The bureau wants him for his special ability, after a football injury his brain was rewired and he now has total recall. He can also see colors associated with numbers and emotions. On his way to Quantico, Virginia to join his new team, he hears a story on the radio about Melvin Mars, a man who has been on death row in Texas for two decades, convicted of killing his parents; and on the day of his scheduled execution, a prisoner on death row in Alabama confessed to the crime. Decker decides that he and his new team must look into this case; partly because he knew the young Mars when they were in college (Mars in Texas and Decker in Ohio), and played against each other, but mainly because of the similarity in their situations. Decker’s family was also killed, and much later someone confessed to the crime, and turned out not to be the real killer.

The Last Mile by David Baldacci is, in my view, Baldacci at his best. He follows Decker and his team from Virginia to Texas, and then on a whirlwind journey across the south in search of the truth. Decker believes that Mars was wrongly convicted, but he’s not convinced that the confessed killer in Alabama is guilty either. The question then becomes, if neither of them is guilty, who is? And, why did they let Mars rot in prison for twenty years only to save him at the last minute? And, why is someone gunning for Decker and his team?

Baldacci knows how to weave a tapestry of mystery and intrigue that will suck you in like a Kansas tornado, and then spit you out gasping in astonishment when the mystery is solved. The hero, Amos Decker, is not your usual thriller he-man. He’s getting old, overweight, and battling demons in the form of memories of finding his entire family slaughtered and being unable to forget even a single detail.

After reading this book you won’t have the power of the Memory Man, but I guarantee that you’ll never forget it.

I received this book as a gift.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Flowers’

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Flowers by Werner Stejskal is a small collection of photographs of flowers taken during the author’s trips to various countries. Each photo is accompanied by a flower-related quote.

Technically and artistically, this is a great little book. The subjects are shown to best advantage, in high-definition color photos with effective lighting. Two of the photos had hands in them, no doubt to hold them still for the camera, but that’s the only jarring note in the whole book.

If you like flowers, you’ll like this book. If you like photography, or photographing flowers, you’ll also like it, although, you might like it more if the author had included some details on how each photo was made (lighting, exposure, etc.). If you like pretty pictures, you’ll definitely like it.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Irish Cowboy’

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Hap Wilkes, known to his neighbors as the Irish Cowboy, is an old man, Crippled by a stroke, and lamenting past decisions that represent a great loss, he has little left but his land, his old dog, and the wild horses that roam free. Then, the government, in the guise of protecting an endangered species, is set to take all that he has left.

Wilkes might be old, but he’s still a force to be reckoned with, and is willing to die to protect what’s his. He finds allies in his fight, when two grandchildren he never knew he had—descendants of the woman he gave up in order to honor a promise—and the local sheriff, who he thought weak and ineffectual, come to his aid. Together, they stand against a corrupt federal official who is working for corporate interests, in a tale that will get your blood racing, and is likely to cause a tear or two.

The Irish Cowboy by D. W. Ulsterman is a story set in modern times, but populated with characters who would have been more at home in an earlier age. The author paints a brilliant picture of people, places, and emotions. The story moves at a leisurely pace as it tells Wilkes’ story, but picks up speed for the confrontation with a land-grabbing bureaucrat, and then slows down again to wrap up the redemption of a man who lived by the rules of a different age.

This book has a little bit of everything; adventure, mystery, romance, and a touch of the Old West, all told in an unpretentious style that pulls the reader fully into the narrative.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘Kill Switch’

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Tess Williams looks like any other American tourist in Krakow, but she has a deadly secret. When she meets Elena Petrescu, who saw her demolish a gang of thugs who were attacking an English tourist and his Polish girlfriend, she’s asked to help the sick woman find her missing daughter, Catalina. Tess doesn’t want to be distracted from her main goal, which is getting back to New York, but the woman’s story is compelling, so she takes the case on. Tess and Elena are plunged into Krakow’s seamy underworld of prostitution, murder, and human trafficking in their almost impossible quest. Can they find Catalina before she disappears in some unnamed foreign land? Or, will they die in the effort?

Tess has the ability to switch from innocent-looking tourist to cold-hearted killer in a heartbeat, and in her search for Catalina, the body count mounts.

Kill Switch by Jack N. Lee introduces a new kind of main female character. She’s not affiliated with any agency, but roams alone, exacting vengeance on those who consider themselves above the law, dealing death with merciless efficiency.

The theme is fantastic, and up to a point, the character is compelling. Unfortunately, not enough of Tess’s back story is given to make sense of what she does, how she developed her killing skills, and what her ultimate goal is. After so many pages of bloodshed and bodies, the ending was disappointing. A bit of a cliffhanger can be tolerated, but this story’s ending was left hanging like an overripe fruit just out of reach.

Maybe the sequels will be better, but I give this one three stars.

Review of ‘Shift: Strangetown Magic Book 2’

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Swift is tired. Having just evicted many Strange back through the great Rift to where they belong and forestalled an invasion of bad elves, she really wants to take a break. But, Strangetown is changing, and not in a good way. The town is being overtaken by jungle growth, and is threatened by an invasion of Normal military and other officials. Worse, her mother, the Queen of the Witches, wants her to put things right, and Levick, the chief Justice and her boss, wants her to find the evil witch, Blue, who has been randomly killing both Strange and Normal.

Shift: Strangetown Magic Book 2 by Al K. Line is another exciting adventure as Swift, her sister and her weird friends face off against a world of plants gone mad, Normals who think they can tackle an ogre, and a mad witch who has someone pulling her strings. Dialogue is pithy, and the situations Swift finds herself in are just as wild as they were in Book 1. Magic and mayhem abound in this romp through a land that only the fevered mind of this author could create.

Hard to put down, and as satisfying as a Long Island Ice Tea on a sweltering day, you’ll enjoy this book. If you don’t, Mack the ogre might just pay you a visit.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book. I give it four stars.

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.