Month: July 2017

Review of ‘The Other’

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Cora Frost is a PhD, studying UFO phenomena and their impact on cults. Jade Whitaker is a social worker; adopted, she is trying to find her birth mother. The paths of these two women cross in New Mexico where Cora has gone with a colleague to study The Astral Plane cult, a group of UFO enthusiasts living on in a secluded compound.

Upon arrival, Cora learns that one of the cult members has murdered her two infants, and the compound is surrounded by heavily-armed police and military forces. She manages to sneak in, where she’s introduced to two green-skinned creatures who are not aliens, but time travelers. She’s asked to secrete them away to keep the authorities from getting their hands on them. One of them, Paloma, has a special affinity to Cora.

The Other by Marilyn Peake follows these three women as they get to know each other and try to avoid the authorities.

An interesting story, it ends on a depressingly inconclusive note, and, while it provides ample background on the three characters, leaves many questions unanswered. I was a bit disappointed in the ending, which wasn’t exactly a cliff hanger, but more or less just an end to a story that was just getting interesting. The author writes extremely well—the prose is enjoyable in itself, but in this story, she ended far too soon.

I received a free copy of this book, and I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘The Forgotten’

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A field operative for Athena Ops, a super-secret arm of the US Government, Ari Cohen is one of the best. When he receives information that seems to show reclusive millionaire Pieter Stangl involved in human trafficking, he’s suspicious. Known in criminal circles as The Raven, Stangl hardly seems the type to conduct such an operation in broad daylight where he knows satellites are likely to pick it up.

Cohen is assigned to track The Raven down and end his operation, but soon discovers that there is more to it than he first thought. The trafficking operations are much more widespread than anyone thought, and are being run by ruthless people for whom human life takes second place to profits. In order to put a stop to it, he has to do something he thought he’d never do; he has to ally himself with the man he’s hunting. But, it’s the only way to save the forgotten, which is what his team calls the children caught up in this vicious activity.

The Forgotten by Spencer Hawke is a good story. The action is well portrayed, and the characters come across as real—though flawed in many cases—people. The only fault I find with this story is the author’s tendency to interrupt the narrative flow to provide data on worldwide human trafficking. It would have been better if this information had been fed in smaller bites, and some of it could’ve been assumed by the actions taking place.

Despite this minor fault, which is just my personal reaction, it was still a very enjoyable read. I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Death Toll Rising’

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Houston Police Detective David Porter, head of a special unit of officers, has long planned a vacation with his family. But, the excursion is cut short when one of the country leaders attending a conference in Houston mysteriously dies in a restaurant in Houston’s Chinatown, and a shadowy Middle Eastern group goes on the Internet with a video of the death, and accuses the Americans of being behind it.

Federal law enforcement agencies jump to alert as international tensions and ill feelings toward the US begin to rise, but, hitting nothing but dead ends, are forced to call on Porter and his team for assistance. When another leader has a sudden ‘heart attack,’ and the group, Allah’s Warriors, again lays the blame on the US, Porter finds himself in a life or death race against the clock—and, things only get worse when the group succeeds in assassinating the American president.

Death Toll Rising, by Terry Keys is a story of international intrigue that will get your pulse racing and keep you on the edge of your chair throughout. The author gets inside the minds of his characters in a way that makes you feel you know them, and his descriptions of action—whether terrorist or US military—are extremely credible without going into mind-numbing details.

In a world that is currently beset with almost unimaginable tensions, this story reads as if it was cribbed from highly-sensitive intelligence reports. A thriller that will, in a word, thrill you.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Habit Stack: 21 Small Life Changes to Improve your Success, Wealth and Productivity’

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What we achieve in life is largely determined by the effort we put into it, and those efforts are guided by habits we’ve developed over a lifetime. In order to make a change for the better, it’s first necessary to develop positive habits, and those positive habits can be achieved by combining, or stacking, them onto existing habits.

In Habit Stack: 21 Small Life Changes to Improve Your Success, Wealth and Productivity by Philip Paterson, readers are introduced to 21 exercises that can start making the changes that will transform them into the persons they want to be.

Arranged into chapters that are written with the non-academic in mind, each ending with a summary that recaps the main points, these are exercises that anyone can master. A nice self-help book that is only marred by a depressingly large number of formatting inconsistencies that are detracting—at least to me—and the author’s practice of inserting review links throughout the book. This, I feel, is overkill. It’s such a short book, a single review link at the end would have been sufficient.

Despite these problems, I still recommend this book for anyone who really wants to change for the better.

I give it three and a half stars based on the mechanical problems, but high marks for content.

Review of ‘Dunkirk: Retreat from the Brink of Destruction’

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For most students of World War II, when Dunkirk is mentioned, the image that comes to mind is the heroic rescue of the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force. Missing from most narratives is the story of the harrowing two months when the BEF, inadequately-equipped and outmanned by the German forces, bore the brunt of the first Wermacht attack against Allied forces.

In Dunkirk: Retreat from the Brink of Destruction, originally published in 1950 as Keep the Memory Green, Ewan Butler and J. Selby Bradford, junior British army officers in France from late 1939 to May 1940, tell the story of the men caught up in the middle of the action. The ground troops, facing German panzer tanks with inadequate weapons, RAF pilots and crews, vastly outnumbered by the Luftwaffe, and navy forces who evacuated troops from Dunkirk under withering German fire. The authors bring the voices of the dead to life, with humor, honor, and a bit of pathos, showing the reader what war is like up close and personal.

This book was meant as a tribute to the forgotten men of the BEF, but it is also a good reminder of the horrors of war. If you like history, this one’s for you.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘In the Spirit of Murder’

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Claudia Hershey left her job as a homicide cop in a large midwestern city, and moved with her daughter to the sleepy town of Indian Run, Florida, to get away from the dirty underbelly of police work. Now, as the only detective on the small town’s police force, she has to deal with a murdered medium, and a killer with an agenda. Fighting her outsider status on the force and in the town, and having to contend with a thirteen-year-old who is in rebellion, Hershey dogged follows murky clues, that lead to an ex-con with issues, a powerful politician with secrets to hide, and a vicious killer whose motive for killing is a mystery. When he makes it personal by snatching her daughter, Hershey goes into overdrive, and finds that her cop instincts haven’t dulled after all.

In the Spirit of Murder by Laura Belgrave is a stunning mystery/police procedural that’s a cross between Mayberry, RFD and NYPD Blue, with a little Steven King occult horror thrown in for good measure. Even the good guys have flaws in this one, but it just makes them all the more believable.

Mystery fans will enjoy this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Last Bastion of Civilization: Japan 2041’

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The Last Bastion of Civilization: Japan 2041 by Andrew Blencowe is not non-fiction, but it takes facts and events from history, and weaves them into a fictional narrative that might best be described as ‘fictional journalism.’

In this series of fictional essays, Blencowe takes on many modern-day assumptions about politics and society, as he traces the rise of Japan to the status of the world’s sole super power by 2041. Well-written, it will disturb many, but not, I think, for the right reasons. The debunking of much of much of accepted political wisdom hits the mark, but the views expressed regarding people and cultures of color are disturbing because they follow the thinking of many who see the world divided between superior and inferior races. One can’t be sure that this expresses the author’s views, or if this thinking is attributed to the characters writing the essays, but it is no less disturbing for that.

Despite being unsettled by the tenor of the book, I found it interesting reading. Contained in the ethnocentric diatribes are a few nuggets of wisdom. If you have an open mind, and are able to read past some of the racist assumptions, you just might enjoy this book.
I also found it intriguing that the only two nations that good consistently good marks in the book are Japan and Germany. While Japan comes out on top of the hierarchy, the Germans are not far behind, and are held out as the only two nations that read the tea leaves correctly as the 21st century matures.

I give the author high marks for his use of prose, but have to subtract a few for the obvious biases contained in the book. My net rating is three and a half stars.

 

Review of ‘The List’

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Chicago homicide detective, Tom Mankowski, has had a strange tattoo on the bottom of his foot since birth. He has thought little of it until he investigates a violent murder and finds that the victim also has a number tattoo on his feet. Now, he wants to know why.

The List by J. A. Konrath is a techno-thriller that will keep you amazed and awake as you flip the pages following Mankowski from Chicago to the West Coast, where he finds others like him, people who’ve have tattoos on their feet, and who, like him, were adopted. An eclectic cast of characters totally unlike those in other Konrath mysteries, this story has tension, danger, and a big dose of humor.
You won’t be able to put it down.

This was an easy five-star read!

Review of ‘White Jade’

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When Nick Carter, a former Marine Recon expert now working for the PROJECT, a special agency that reports directly to the President, is assigned to provide security to Selena Connor, niece of a wealthy man who was slain for his money and an unsuccessful attempt to acquire an ancient text supposedly containing the secret to immortality, he didn’t know what he was getting into.
When attempts are made by armed Chinese to abduct Selena, the stakes suddenly get higher, and Nick finds himself at the epicenter of a plot that could lead to war with China.

White Jade by Alex Lukeman is a riveting thriller of international intrigue and violence that will keep you turning pages until the chilling climax. This story of unbridled lust for power will also keep you awake long after you’ve finished reading it.

I give Lukeman four stars for this one.

Review of ‘The Women Who Changed the Course of History’

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In most traditional history courses that American students are exposed to, the contributions and roles of women and minorities are often overlooked, or at best, only given cursory mention. Dominique Atkinson’s groundbreaking book, The Women Who Changed the Course of History, changes that in a fundamental way.

From Eve, the so-called Mother of Mankind, to 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Atkinson explores the pivotal role a few remarkable women played, and continue to play, in the world’s affairs.

From Eve’s ‘fall from grace,’ she discusses the origins of the misogynistic male mindset regarding women and their role in society from its beginnings. Eve, who was tempted by the serpent to taste the fruit from the ‘tree of knowledge,’ is characterized as the reason for humanities suffering and the expulsion from Eden. My only complaint about this offering is that the author failed to mention that since Eve was the first to acquire ‘knowledge,’ women had a head start on men in the intelligence department, a fact that is reinforced by the different reactions of Eve and her mate, Adam, to their dilemma. Even as written, however, it goes a long way to making sense of the male reactions to women who broke out of the expected mold over the centuries.

Atkinson offers detailed portraits of several women who, throughout our history, have refused to allow themselves to be pigeon-holed and treated as ‘less than fully human.’ Women like Cleopatra, Marie Curie, Benazir Bhutto, and Hillary Clinton, who, rather than allowing themselves to be defined by men, defined themselves, and in so doing, initiated changes that reverberate long after they’ve gone from the scene.

For anyone who wants an alternative look at the history we’ve been spoon-fed most of our lives, I can think of no better book to begin the process.

I give this thoroughly engrossing book five stars.

Review of ‘A Trace of Death’

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Former college professor Keri Locke is now a rookie detective in the Missing Persons Unit of LAPD’s Homicide Division. Still haunted by the abduction of her daughter four years earlier, she throws herself into her cases, while still seeking answers as to her daughter’s whereabouts.

When a high school student, daughter of a US Senator, fails to arrive home from school, she and her partner investigate. They uncover secrets in the girl’s life that lead everyone else to believe she has merely run away, but Keri is unconvinced, and despite being told to drop it, continues to investigate.

A Trace of Death by Blake Pierce is a spine-tingling mystery/thriller that you absolutely will not be able to put down once you start reading. The way the author switches back and forth from Keri’s first person point of view to the kidnap victim’s third person view only adds to the suspense, and makes the denouement all the more satisfying.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Olivia, Mourning’

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When young Olivia’s father died, he left 80 acres of land in Michigan to any of his children willing to cultivate it. Olivia decides that she wants that land, but she has a problem; she’s only 17, she’s female, and it’s 1840, a time when women are expected to concern themselves with finding a proper husband and raising his children. Not to be denied her dream, she convinces Mourning Free, the son of runaway slaves who does odd jobs for the people in her small town, and who she has known since they were both small children, to accompany her as her partner in the venture. Because of their racial differences, of course, he must pose as her hired man.

In Michigan, Olivia and Mourning start to make a go of it, and develop more than friendly feelings for each other. A neighboring family, though, has other plans for Olivia, plans that end in tragedy.

Olivia, Mourning by Yael Politis tells the story of Olivia and Mourning as each endeavors to cope with the often prejudiced and unrealistic expectations of a society in transition. It’s a story of irrational prejudice, irreconcilable views on gender roles, and the strength of the human will, set against a realistically described social backdrop. The characters, though flawed in many ways because of their upbringing, inspire empathy and admiration as they struggle with society’s strictures and their own fears.

This is a book that, once you start reading, you’ll find difficult to put down until you finish, And, after you’ve finished, you’ll want to know more.

Some readers will not like this book because it ends with something of a cliff hanger. It is, nonetheless, strongly written and is a good portrayal of the era in which it’s set. In many ways, most of the problems, including to a limited degree what happened to Mourning Free, are implied if not explicitly explained, and it does set up well for the sequels.

I give the author three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Lakota Honor’

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Nora Rushton, a 19-year-old, with the power to heal, must conceal her ability lest she be accused of witchcraft and killed. Her father, devastated by the murder of his wife for being a witch, tries to keep her locked away in their house, but her urge to help others causes her to disobey from time to time.
Otakatay, is a half-Sioux, half-white outcast, a bounty hunter, his quest to earn enough money to complete a quest he has set for himself, he has turned into a killer of innocent women at the behest of a white man with a vendetta against witches.

Their paths cross when her father is killed, and the town’s richest man is determined to make her his trophy wife, and someone else has put a price on her head. Otakatay has been hired to kill her, but finds that he can’t, and instead decides that he will protect her, even if it means losing his own life.
Lakota Honor by Kat Flannery is a chilling tale of prejudice, betrayal, and violence, set in the old West. Two people sharing similar stigma as outcasts, take different paths that wind up intersecting, and discover that love can heal old wounds and help in forging new beginnings.

This is not your typical western. Even with the supernatural element, it’s not as vapid as some of the genre-fusion novels, such as Cowboys and Aliens. Trust me, you won’t have to be a western fan to enjoy it.

I give it four stars.

You can now subscribe to my new author site

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After a lot of tinkering, I was finally able to add a Subscribe button to my new site, charlesray-author.com. The bad news is, it’s at the bottom of the site in the Contact section. Anyway, I hope this won’t stop new subscribers from checking it out.

Review of ‘Under a Black Sky’

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When Asger Vad, his wife, and son are found shot execution style and posed around a table looking at a doll house, and their 11-year-old daughter is missing, Danish police inspector, Daniel Trokic is sent to Alaska to participate in the investigation. He teams up with Angie Johnson, a half-Native American, half-white homicide detective in the Anchorage police department. Together, the two race against time to find the girl, while bodies start piling up, and a nearby volcano decides to get a bad case of indigestion.

Under a Black Sky by Inger Wolf is a finely-tuned murder mystery, featuring a conflicted, flawed character, and an almost science-fiction locale. Rich descriptions and evocative dialogue are the hallmarks of one of the better mystery writers I’ve encountered in a number of years.
Like the frozen landscape of Alaska, this novel has no ornamentation, just bare bones good reading.

I give Wolf five stars for this book.

Review of ‘Starboard Secrets’

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Less than ten minutes after arriving for her first cruise, a dead body is found near the ship’s bar. There’s speculation that the victim, a clerk in one of the ship’s stores, was murdered. Millie had previously worked for her husband’s PI agency, and decides to investigate the crime. This gets someone on board the ship upset, and she gets threats, but with a new-found friend, she persists, even though her new boss is one of the prime suspects.
Starboard Secrets by Hope Callaghan is a humorous cozy mystery with an interesting cast of characters. This is a quick read that can be done in one sitting, and is actually quite entertaining.

I give this opening salvo in the cruise ship cozy mystery series three and a half stars.

Come Visit My New Author Site

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I’ve finally bowed to the inevitable and begun constructing a dedicated author site that will be devoted to one thing – my books. While it will be promoting them–after all, attracting readers is what it’s all about–it will also be offering previews of upcoming works and some insight into the plots and characters that drive my writing.

It can only succeed, though, if it attracts visitors, so I invite you to come over and take a look at http://charlesray-author.com/. It’s in its early stages now, but I will be adding new content each day. I’d like each of you to be a part of that journey, so when you visit, tell me what you think.

Look forward to seeing you at Charles Ray – Author.

Review of ‘A Harmless Little Game’

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When Lindsay Bosworth was 19, she was still a virgin. Then, three frat brothers of her fiancé, Drew, gang-raped her, videotaped it, and posted it to the Internet where it went viral. Three of her so-called best friends came forward and said that she’d been drunk and invited it, and to minimize the scandal, her US Senator father had her packed off to a mental institution for four years, where she was to be kept in isolation. She did, however, manage to see a copy of the tape, and to her shock, saw Drew sitting watching, and doing nothing. Even worse, she learns that her rapists were never prosecuted.

Lindsay, though, is no longer just a victim. Once she’s released from the institution and back home, she’s determined to see that her assailants will face the consequences of their actions. The problem, or problems, though, are many. Drew is now her father’s chief of security, with the mission of providing her personal protection, and her father has decided to run for president. Lindsay is not a ‘problem’ that must be managed for the sake of his campaign. To add to her angst, someone is taunting her, and even trying to kill her. Who can she trust?

A Harmless Little Game by Meli Raine is an interesting thriller on many levels. On the one hand, it exposes the lengths people will go to in their quest for political power, even at the expense of those closest to them, while on the other, it shows the power of the Internet to be used for evil purposes. The story proceeds with grim determination as Lindsay slowly comes to grips with her situation, and learns who her true enemies are—but, more importantly, who her friends are. Riveting dialogue and blood-chilling narrative keep the reader flipping pages. My only complaint is the cliff-hanger ending, that leaves the reader wondering, what next?

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Bake, Battle & Roll’

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When Lexy Baker is offered a job as a fill-in pastry chef at a trendy resort, she sees it as a great way to combine work and pleasure, and spend some quality time with her fiancé, Roger, and her grandmother, Nan. It would be ideal, except for the testy head chef, Alain Dugasse, whose temperament and harsh treatment of the kitchen staff grates on her. Then, Lexy finds Dugasse, face up near a dumpster behind the kitchen, with a chef’s knife in his chest, and she becomes the number-one suspect in his murder.
With her grandmother, and her octogenarian friends, who belong to an amateur sleuthing club, Lexy sets out to solve the crime before her vacation ends with her behind bars.
Bake, Battle, & Roll by Leighann Dobbs is a humorous, but at times, chilling, cozy mystery set in the backdrop of the culinary world. Sandwiched between the episodes of her search for an elusive killer, Lexy takes time out to canoodle with Roger and prepare dishes that, on paper at least, sound scrumptious.
A delightful summer read. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Learning My Words: A-Z’

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Learning My Words A-Z is another nice little picture book by Piaras O. Cionnaoith. This one introduces basic reading skills with notes for teachers at the end. Because of the British spellings, it probably would be of only marginal utility for American readers, and a couple of the definitions in the teachers’ notes section are misleading, e.g., for ‘fire’, the effects of fire are given as the definition, rather than a precise definition of what fire actually is.

Despite these shortcomings, it’s still an interesting book.

I give it three stars.