Month: June 2017

Review of ‘Southern Spirits’

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Verity Long, a freelance graphics designer, is out of work and, because of a vengeful ex-fiancé whom she left at the altar, and his mother, she’s in danger of losing her home. One day, she accidentally traps the ghost of a dead mobster on her property, setting off a chain of events that forever change her life.

The ghost, Frankie the German, enables her to see other spirits, and when Ellis Wydell, the sheriff of Sugarland, TN, and brother to Beau, her ex, asks her help in exorcising ghosts from a property he bought, her changed life gets dangerous. Not only must she contend with angry spirits capable of doing her great harm, but there’s a live person out there trying to kill both her and Ellis.

Southern Spirits by Angie Fox is the first book in a planned series featuring Verity and her sidekick, Frankie, dealing with wayward spirits and other assorted bad guys and gals. It’s well-paced mystery and to use a southern euphemism, as funny as a bucket full of crabs. Verity is a main character, a la Kinsey Milhone with ghosts and goblins thrown into the mix, who you simply cannot help but like. Even some of the vengeful ghosts arouse a certain amount of sympathy.

If you like stories about things that go bump in the night, and give you goose bumps, you’ll love this one. Can’t wait to read the next offering in the series.

An easy five-star rating.

Review of ‘Why the Right Went Wrong’

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Donald Trump’s amazing surge in the 2016 GOP primaries had many people scratching their heads, and then, wonder of wonders, he went on to win the election. While there’s a tendency to see Trump’s win as a tectonic shift in American politics, in Why the Right Went Wrong, columnist and author, E.J. Dionne, Jr., posits that the changes in conservatism and GOP politics really dates as far back as the Republican Party and southern whites’ reaction to FDR’s New Deal. But it was Barry Goldwater’s sharp tilt toward this demographic (as well as certain of the wealthy who resented government controls that threatened their profits), and a shift away from urban populations, including immigrants and African-Americans, that has so changed the way the GOP approaches campaigning.

Dionne traces the actions of GOP luminaries such as Goldwater, who in the 1964 election campaign (which, by the way, was coincidentally the 45th presidential election in the country’s history) espoused extremism, which he described as ‘no vice,’ and eschewed moderation, which for his was ‘no virtue.’ He looks at the birth of the Tea Party Movement, which was hijacked by right-wing politicians, conservative media, and a segment of the 1%.

This extreme rightward shift has changed the tenor of politics in this country. No longer is it acceptable to the GOP base or GOP extremists to make peace with the ‘other side.’ Republicans who do often find themselves targeted by their own party for retribution.

While having opposing viewpoints in politics ordinarily helps keep the country on an even keel, preventing rash change that can be destabilizing, while preserving worthwhile traditions, the current situation is an example of the dysfunction that can result when one side decides to adopt a scorched-earth approach to politics. A prime example of this has been the GOP reaction to the Affordable Care Act, which is, in fact, almost identical to the health plan they themselves had previously proposed and supported. Now, because it is the product of the’ ‘enemy,’ they want nothing more than to completely dismantle it. They would rather see the government shut down, or in default, rather than compromise.

Until this situation changes, American politics will continue to be dysfunctional, and we will see a continuation of chaotic and aimless leadership such as we have in #45.

I received this book as a gift.

I give it five stars.

My Writing Office

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A real writer can work anywhere

Don’t Wait for the Muse

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Writers who wait around for the muse often get nothing written.

Review of ‘Adam’s Belle: A Memoir of Love Without Bounds’

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In 2007, Isabel Washington Powell, a former headliner at Harlem’s Cotton Club, and the former wife of New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., passed away. Just before her death, on the eve of her hundredth birthday, Powell had collaborated with author, Joyce Burnett in the telling of her life story, from her childhood in Savannah, Georgia, to her time on the stage in Harlem, and her turbulent marriage to the mercurial Powell.
In Adam’s Belle: A memoir of love without bounds, the reader is given an inside look at life for African-Americans during the roaring twenties onward, through the eyes of one who lived it. In frank words, Isabel tells not just her story, but the story of a country in chaotic transition, and the travails of a free-spirited, determined woman who insisted on living life on her own terms in a society that judged people, not by their merits but by the color of their skin.
Many famous people appear in this book, but in Isabel’s words we see them not as famous people, but real-life people, warts and all. Despite rubbing shoulders with such renowned people, though, Isabel remains until the very end, her own person, one you would like to get to know better.
I received this book as a gift, and have read it several times; each time coming away with a renewed insight into a bygone era, an era whose legacy, unfortunately, is still with us in many ways.

A fascinating biography that unfortunately is often too repetitive. Nonetheless, I still give it four stars.


Review of ‘Cliffhanger’

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Socialite Belinda Kittredge, returning to her hometown, Portside, RI, expected fun, sun, and sugar cookies. There to oversee her twin brother, Kyle’s, renovation of their parents’ home, she is also reconnecting with old high school friends. Immediately, though, a decade-old tragedy, the death in a boating accident of a friend and almost-boyfriend, intrudes. At a party, she’s approached by Jeff, witness to the old death, who wants to ‘talk to her about it.’ She also finds herself pursued by a teenaged neighbor who had an old crush on her and seems to want to revive it.

When Jeff is found dead at the base of a cliff, Belinda knows something is amiss. She finds it hard to concentrate on it, however, because of the heat emitted by Bennett Tate, an ex-cop turned event security expert, who is asked by a friend on the local police force to keep an eye on her—a task he finds most pleasant.

Things go from bad to worse, and Belinda finds herself the target of some weird attempts on her life, her brother accused of murdering Jeff, and an old classmate still carrying a grudge over something that is ten years in the past.

You might assume Cliffhanger by Amy Saunders is one of those books that ends on a cliffhanger, with many—or at least the main—issues unresolved. Wrong. The author wraps everything up nicely. Turns out, the title refers to the situations the main character constantly finds herself in.

One complaint about the book. The author uses characters names frequently, and I do mean frequently. Belinda’s name opens the first two paragraphs, and I stopped counting how many times her name was used in that chapter at ten—it was more. It’s nice to know which character is which, but there has to be a better way than using their name; three or four times in one paragraph is way too many. At that frequency it’s not informative, it’s intrusive.

So, here’s a book with a fascinating couple of main characters, the requisite volume of sparks flying between them, and a fairly interesting plot—marred by names, names, names. I give it three stars, and cross my fingers that this author—who shows great promise—will notice this and institute corrective measures in future books.

Review of ‘Saving Grace’

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Katie Connell is an attorney in a big Dallas law firm. After a particularly grueling case, she decides to get away to the island of St. Marcos and look into the suspicious deaths of her parents there. Once there, though, her addiction to Bloody Marys and a love life that is going sideways, lands her in hot water. She decides to buy a rundown haunted house in the rain forest, after she’s contacted by the spirit of the house. But then, her only friend on the island, Ava, is accused of murdering a local politician with whom she’s been having an affair. In her efforts to help her friend, Katie finds that she’s as much of a danger to herself as the island’s bad guys.

Saving Grace by Pamela Fagan Hutchins is an enjoyable mystery, with a touch of the paranormal, and a lot of hilarity as Katie bumbles and stumbles her way through life. The author has blended the supernatural into the story in such a way, one might think it’s just an alcohol-induced mirage. Katie is a well-meaning, but flawed (though not fatally) character who arouses mixed emotions. On the one hand, you want to slap some sense into her, but at the same time, you feel like taking her in your arms and comforting her, and assuring her that ‘tomorrow will be a better day.’

This one is a must-read for mystery fans. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Hunted’

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LeeAnn is a CPA. Her life revolves around the certainty and reliability of numbers. Her business partner, on the other hand, is more flexible when it comes to numbers, and the law. She’s on her way to Miami to meet him. She likes the heat of the city, but it is soon to become even hotter.

Kane is a Hunter. But, his mission this time is to protect LeeAnn who is on someone’s hit list. What he hadn’t planned on was falling in love with her.

The Hunter by Jackie Ivie is part action, part humor (which I think is partly unintended, but nonetheless funny). It follows Kane and LeeAnn as they flee a hitman who has an abundance of resources at his command. Their escape, however, is greatly complicated by the growing physical and emotional attachment that is growing between them.

The story, in my humble opinion, ends a little abruptly, but I enjoyed reading it.

I give the author four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Ten Guilty Men’

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When an anonymous call leads police to a house where they find the body of famous photographer and notorious socialite, Ellis DeLange, DCI David Morton is assigned to investigate the case. With his serious crime unit, he begins to delve into the woman’s background, and the more he digs, the murkier it gets. The case includes just about everything but the kitchen sink; several people with opportunity, but no motive; people with motive, but no opportunity that he can see, a pretend lord, and a strange man seen leaving the premises in the middle of the night, completely nude.

Morton has to deal with all this, and the attendant publicity that such a high-profile case attracts, along with problems within his team, including one detective who, because of a stroke, has communication problems. Clues pile up, problems pile up, but bit by bit, Morton and his team whittle the list of suspects down to two, both with motive and opportunity, but which one did the crime—or, were they working together.

You will enjoy Ten Guilty Men by Daniel Campbell and Sean Campbell. It has suspense, it has humor, and it has a modicum of excitement—well, it is British mystery, and unlike their American counterparts, car chases and shootouts aren’t a staple of good mysteries. If you like well-rounded, but ultimately flawed, characters, tight plots, and good pacing, you’ll like the DCI Morton series.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘The First Shot’

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As a homicide detective, Tampa Detective Carl Kane is accustomed to death. But his latest case, three dead drug dealers and two middle-aged women killed execution style at the same scene, has him stumped. When he gets another multiple homicide with the same M.O., he knows he has a problem on his hands, but even he’s unprepared for the madman he’s now chasing.

The First Shot by E. H. Reinhard is pretty tense noir mystery, with vivid descriptions of some pretty gruesome action (a warning for the benefit of the squeamish), and brief glimpses into the minds of the characters.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Gretel: Book One’

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If you’ve read the story of ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ and you think you know all there is to know about a girl and her brother abandoned in the forest by their father at the behest of an evil stepmother, think again. You simply have to read Gretel: Book One by Christopher Coleman.

An ancient evil lurks in the back country. For a long time, it was sleeping, but it’s now awake, and is hungry. It sets its sights on a mother, alone in the forest and seeking help. Gretel, in charge of taking care of her ailing father and brother while her mother, Anika, is away, she longs for change. That change comes when they determine that Anika is missing, but it’s not the change she sought.  Evil, she learns, is everywhere—including right in her own home. Gretel has to grow up fast if she’s to deal with corrupt police officials, a father and grandfather who are not what they seem, and an evil as old as mankind.

Your pulse will race from the first page, and the tension doesn’t let up, even at the end. This is not your usual fairy tale.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘Dark Heart’

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Detective Sergeant Charlie Cooper is ready to get out of homicide so he can spend more time with his family. But, when the serial killer he’s been pursuing for a decade is murdered, with one of his victims still missing and unaccounted for, he decides to stay on in the hopes he can rescue her and bring some closure to the families of the other victims.

Eva Matthews has a bad ticker, but is saved at the last minute when she receives a heart transplant. Immediately after a successful operation, she begins having strange dreams. When she learns that her heart came from the murdered serial killer, and a reporter starts hounding her for help finding his missing wife, she and Cooper’s paths cross.

Dark Heart by Catherine Lee is a jolting read that explores not just the details of police efforts to close the books on a sadistic killer, but a psychological thriller that delves into the mysteries of the human mind. The ending, which ties up every loose end and clue the author so skillfully planted throughout, will both surprise and satisfy.

I give Lee five stars for a well-crafted story.

Review of ‘The Babbling Brook Naked Poker Club: Book One’

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When Josephine Bartlett’s husband was alive, he controlled every penny she spent—or, tried to—and, when he died, he left everything under the control of her son, Jeff, who was just as controlling as his father, going so far as to move her into Brookshire Retirement Community and selling her house. Josephine chafes at the environment, and has few friends, except for a crew that has roped her into a regular card game, which she, in a moment of madness, suggests be strip poker—with stories told rather than clothing removed.

When she and her friends discover that the community handyman, Eddie, is ripping people off, they investigate, and find that even bigger thefts are occurring. Unwillingly at first, Josephine befriends, Devi, a young woman who works there and who is being pursued by Eddie, and together they begin to piece together what’s really going on. The closer they get to the truth, the more danger they find themselves in, until the perps are finally all unmasked, to everyone’s surprise.

The Babbling Brook Naked Poker Club: Book One by Ann Warner is a hilarious cozy mystery featuring an unforgettable cast of characters. The author walks readers through the crime and its resolution quite smartly, taking little side trips along the way that fully explain each character’s motivation. I particularly liked the way she alternated character viewpoints to keep the mystery quotient high, while at the same time, providing information that would be impossible or forces if done from only one point of view.

I laughed all the way through this book. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Atlantic Island’

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Theo then finds himself and his friends between forces contending for control of what they now call Atlantic Island, and they are soon in a life or death struggle against greed, corruption, and a lust for power, all backed by a strange force that he doesn’t understand. Both Theo and Kylee must face up to unthought-of challenges and rise to the occasion or they and their friends will die.

Atlantic Island by Frederic Shernoff is an interesting post-apocalyptic/sci-fi thriller that is also something of a coming of age story. While it’s a bit choppy in places, and often makes abrupt temporal shifts, it is nonetheless an entertaining read for fans of the genre. The author does a good job of foreshadowing the source of the main antagonist’s strength and mental instability without actually giving it away until the fateful confrontation. I was a bit disappointed that the ‘terrible incident’ referred to by the Coast Guard officer to Theo at the end was not explained in more detail. It would also have been nice if there’d been an explanation of how the ‘orb’ worked.

I ordinarily don’t like books to end on cliff hangers, but I’ll give the author a pass on this one. He settled all but one of the problems that arose, and set it up for an interesting sequel. I give the book three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Last Train to Nowhere’

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Inspector Thomas Sullivan is a policeman on Beta Prime, a place where life is cheap. He’d once been a Space Marine, and a member of the elite SP unit, until a commander made a stupid mistake that cost his comrades their lives, and him to require prosthetic limbs and a bionic eye, and ended his military career.

When a member of the SP is killed in an isolated mining town, Sullivan is requested by name to investigate. He’s shocked when he learns that the SP commander is none other than the man who cost him his career, and once he arrives at the scene of the crime and begins his investigation, things only get worse. He uncovers an illegal cloning operation, and murder most foul–cloning is a serious crime on Beta Prime–and that it’s probably being run by an arm of the government. But, someone, someone on the inside, is stealing and dealing in clones, and clones are being allowed to run loose among the human population without their knowledge.

With his assistant, Josephson, a severely damaged young cop, and Sarah, herself an illegal clone that Sullivan has hired, ostensibly as an assistant, but in reality, to keep an eye on her, Sullivan has to contend with a mysterious ringleader of the theft ring, government jurisdictional disputes, and corrupt colleagues who are in it just for the money.

Last Train to Nowhere by K. C. Sivils is an interesting blend of crime noir and science fiction, with elements of humor and suspense common to both. The characters are fascinating, fully formed and possessed of complex motivations, and the scenario, if you’re willing to accept the existence of interplanetary travel, quite believable.

As a fan of both genres, I found this fusion concept, as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock would say, quite . . . fascinating.

I give this book four stars.


Review of ‘Suri Five’

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After her mother died, Suri allowed herself to be consumed by anger at everyone and everything, except her brother, Tommy, with whom she submerges herself in the Game, an interactive battle simulation that they are both expert at. What she doesn’t know until too late is that a secret government agency has designed the Game to identify and recruit fighters for the not-so-secret cyber war between the US and China. They make a copy of Suri’s brain, from which they construct an AI replica, Suri Five, which is deployed into the Web, resulting in the almost complete destruction of China. But, things go awry when Suri Five then turns her wrath on her creators, threatening to destroy everything unless they give her Tommy. Now, Suri must save the world by killing–herself.

Suri Five by Jacob Whaler is a riveting techno-thriller that follows Suri as she dives into the Web in an effort to defeat an AI that is more ruthless and capable than she is, even with the help of Richard, a new kid in her school who is not intimidated by her alpha-bully status. Well-paced, this story will keep you on the edge of your seat as Suri comes to a devastating realization–in order to save the world, she must sacrifice the thing that is most important to her. I found the font and spacing in this e-book a bit problematic, but the plot and writing were first-rate.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘The Alphabet Books’

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I received a free copy of Marc Richard’s The Alphabet Books, which included the letters A through C. I wasn’t sure what to expect, except that it would be a very nontraditional take on some well-known tales. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised at the experience.

‘A is for Adam’ is a hilarious (and irreverent) take on the creation story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Fall when they disobeyed instructions not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the aftermath. If you’re the pious type, you’ll probably not want to read this story. It will surely offend you. If, on the other hand, you appreciate good satire and fantastic writing, read on.

‘B is for Bear’ is the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears reimagined as an encounter between a mob family and a conniving blackmailer.

The final story in this trilogy, ‘C is for Cookie’, has Hansel and Gretel as long-haul truckers delivering a load of strange cookies to a witchy baker who lives in a house made of all kinds of sweets.

Unless your funny bone has been surgically removed, you’ll be unable to resist laughing as you read this trilogy of funky fairy tales brought to you by an author who had to have been nibbling at some of the witch’s cookies as he wrote.

Funny, fabulously funny, from the first page to the last.

I give this one five stars plus!

Review of ‘The Ravine: Evil, Hope, and the Afterlife’

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Rachel Turner and her son, Evan, are found brutally murdered. Her husband, Danny, is found dead in his car at the bottom of a ravine. The town of Akron, Ohio is shocked that such a devastating event could happen in their otherwise peaceful burg. Rachel’s best friend, Carolyn Bianci is thrown into a bout of depression and a crisis of faith, but her husband, Mitchell, a devout man, is determined to discover what really happened in the Turner house that fateful night. Just as he is almost at the end of his faith, Joanna Larson, a woman with amazing spiritual gifts and an insight into the souls of others, living and dead, appears with a message to help Carolyn and Mitchell understand what happened, why it happened, and how their faith can help them through their crisis.

Ravine: Evil, Hope, and the Afterlife by Robert Pasculli is an overtly religious novel, but one doesn’t have to be Christian, or even particularly religious, to grasp the underlying message – hope and faith are the only way to overcome evil, and the capacity to forgive—even one’s own shortcomings—is the key.

I usually find religious-themed stories too heavily laden with piety and overly-hopeful homilies, but Pasculli, even though he does stress the religious aspect, does not really preach. He shows, through the actions and words of the characters primarily, how people can cope with the evil that often inhabits our world alongside the good, and it’s up to us to shun the evil, while seeking the good.

I found myself identifying with the main character, and captivated by Joanna, even though she was almost a Deus ex Machina in the way she shows up just when she was needed to resolve a troubling situation.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Nothing New Under the Sun’

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Carter Devereux is an archeologist, and the more he studies the history of humanity, the more he’s convinced that ancient, more advanced civilizations once lived on the earth. Worse, he’s convinced that these people had knowledge of, and used, nuclear weapons. As evidence mounts that his suspicions are correct, the government calls upon him to find these ancient weapons of mass destruction before they fall into the wrong hands. Unknown to him, just such a pair of wrong hands is following his every move and trying to get one step ahead. The question is; can he succeed before those who would use these weapons to destroy civilization as we know it?

There is Nothing New Under the Sun by J.C. Ryan is a relatively well-written, tense thriller that, but for the fact that it ends with too many issues unresolved, would be a great read. The author has a masterful way with words, despite a tendency to stop the narrative flow to dump tons of historical and archeological information on the reader. To the author’s credit, this information is informative and interestingly written.

I am, unfortunately only able to give this book three and a half stars, though, because of the aforementioned (to me, at least) weaknesses.