Month: August 2017

Review of ‘Rat Pack Party Girl’

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Rat Pack Party Girl by Jane McCormick with Patti Wicklund is the compelling life story of Jane McCormick, abused as a child by her stepfather, and then trapped in an abusive relationship when she married while still a teenager, who then became a high-priced call girl in Las Vegas. While McCormick earned a lot of money plying her trade, and hobnobbed with many A-list celebrities, she began to realize that she was being exploited, but was for a long time unable to free herself. Abused, physically and mentally, she even attempted suicide. But, after finally finding a relationship in which she was respected for who she really was, she was able to turn her life around, and became a relentless advocate for abused women and children.

McCormick’s story, in addition to giving little known (or, in some cases unknown until now) secrets about the rich and famous, is a case study in the manipulation of the helpless, and an engrossing look at sex-trafficking in the United States. It offers advice, from a victim’s perspective, on how to end the cycle of manipulation, and is a cautionary tale for any young person even considering embarking on the ‘high life.’

I received a free copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Murder on the S.S. Rosa’

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In 1923, young war widow Ginger Gold boards the S.S. Rosa, bound from Boston to Liverpool, to settle her late father’s estate in London. A few nights into the voyage, the captain of the vessel is found murdered, and among the long list of possible suspects is one Ginger Gold. With the help of her traveling companion, Haley Higgins, she’s determined to help CI Basil Reed, a passenger on the ship, find the real killer.

Murder on the S. S. Rosa by Lee Strauss is a short prequel to the Ginger Gold cozy mystery series that has all the hallmarks of a fascinating mystery series. Rich descriptions of the social mores of the era, combined with heart-stopping suspense and action, this book ends all too soon—but, in a most satisfying manner. The author does a masterful job of creating believable characters; even the villains have some redeeming social graces, and credible motives.

A fascinating introduction to a character that will rival Miss Fisher in the cozy genre set in the period between world wars.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Moon Over Montana’

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Charity McCutcheon went off to Texas, and got herself into a peck of trouble. Y-Knot’s town sheriff, Brandon Crawford, took it upon himself to go from Montana to Texas to rescue her, and after successfully doing so, proposed marriage. Now, back home in Y-Knot, they’re faced with a dilemma; unknown to Charity, Brandon had applied for a job as a deputy U.S. marshal, and he’s received a response to his application. He now has to tell her, and face losing her, or give up on a job he has long dreamed of. In the meantime, Fox Dancing, a Cheyenne woman warrior, half-sister of Charity’s older brother Luke, the outcome of her mother’s time as a captive of the Cheyenne years before, leaves her tribal village to search for her famous half-white brother. When she arrives in Y-Knot, though, it stirs the anti-Indian passions of many local residents, and soon Charity and Fox Dancing find themselves facing mortal peril, peril from which only Brandon and Luke can save them.

Moon Over Montana is the fifth book in Caroline Fyffe’s ‘McCutcheon Family’ series. A combination western adventure and romance, it portrays life in Montana in the late 1880s colorfully and with the skill of a historian. The characters are full of life, and whether bad of good, act in ways that the reader can easily understand. While the book deals extensively with the romance that has blossomed between Charity and Brandon, none of the historical richness or actin is sacrificed in doing so. In fact, their relationship is shown against the backdrop of the times in a way that is both authentic and stirring.

This is a book that will appeal to devotees of both genres, a western full of action and historical color, and a romance that will set your heart to racing.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Unearthed’

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After a global earthquake left the earth shattered, and communities isolated, a new social order was established to restore civility. Unfortunately, it also established a caste system where those at the bottom of the hierarchy have been left without hope, and are subjected to some of the worst injustices imaginable.

Blague, a Sin, the lowest of the social classes, is the leader of a rebellion intended to overthrow the existing social order, and restore hope and justice. When he leads an attack to seize an outpost belonging to the Heizers, the top class, and obtain access to a chemical that is important to their continued hold over society. The successful operation also emboldens Sin society to rise up against the Heizers, and brings Blague into direct confrontation with the Heizer ringleader, who also happens to be his brother.

Unearthed by March Mulero is an interesting story, taking a look at what can happen when those who are already at the top of the economic ladder are allowed to act without restraint. I had a problem, though, with the grammar and some of the sentence structure of the book. It could use another round of line editing, which would elevate it in the genre. As it stands, however, it fails to make the grade, and I can only give it three stars.

Review of ‘Tsura’

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World War II is devastating Romania, and the Jews and Roma are being targeted for extermination by the government, allied with the Nazis. Tsura, a young gypsy girl, finds herself forced to accept marriage to Mihai, a Nazi collaborator, in order to save her family, and her lover, Andrei, a Jew. As the war rages, and Tsura adapts to her sham marriage, she learns that Mihai has been leading a secret life in an effort to atone for his father’s sins.

Tsura by Heather Anastasiu is a tale of war and love, set against the backdrop of wartime Romania, allied with the Germans as a protective shield against the Russians who covet Romanian territory. This compelling story explores the actions and feelings of people caught in a seemingly no-win situation, a small nation caught between two equally undesirable situations, fighting to survive. The growth of the characters, as they come to terms with their situations, is profound. The author has done a fantastic job of showing the potentially devastating effect of war on human relationships, and the way that different people respond to desperate circumstances.

This novel ends on something of a cliffhanger, but in this instance, the author can be forgiven, for the cliffhanger ends one chapter in the main characters’ lives and sets the stage for even more chilling events to come.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Reminiscences of a Marine’

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Published originally in 1930, The Reminisces of a Marine, is the account of the life of John A. LeJeune, who served for eight years as the Commandant of the Marine Corps. LeJeune’s story of his childhood, growing up in the turbulent years immediately after the Civil War in reconstruction-era Louisiana, and his career, first as a naval officer and finally as a U.S. Marine.

LeJeune’s account, while intensely personal, also highlights many of the pivotal events of world and American history of the period; notably the Spanish-American War, the period of heavy American involvement in Latin America, China, and the Philippines; and the horrific trench warfare of World War I in Europe. He also outlines the history of the Marine Corps in the 20th century, and the pivotal role he played in making it a quasi-independent part of the Department of the Navy.

With knowledge of world events since 1930, something that LeJeune, from his vantage point would not have, one can also see the foreshadowing of many triumphs and tribulations that persist down to the present day. From the often troubled relationships we have with our southern neighbors, a residue of the years of American occupation and involvement in internal affairs, to the prickly familial relationship with the Philippines.

This book should be read by anyone interested in a personal look at America during the period between the end of the Civil War and the conclusion of World War I, as the United States reestablished itself as a world power.

I received a free copy of this book. I give the author a posthumous four stars.

Review of ‘Intertwined’

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After failing his higher learning test, William Rose received an invitation from the Agency for Scientific and Technological Advancement (A.S.T.A.), offering him compensation if he’d be willing to submit to tests at their secluded facility. Once there, though, he finds that all is not as it first seems, and must try to save his parents from the mysterious Mr. Dark, win the girl of his dreams, and survive.

Intertwined by Cooper Eaton is an interesting book. The premise, a shadowy organization physically and mentally manipulating citizens, is interesting, and revives thoughts of the US CIA’s MK-Ultra program. The execution, however, needs work. The author confuses verbs, laid when lay would’ve been the correct word, and this is just one example of several I found while reading the book. Character dialogue is also weak. Everyone in the book sounds like everyone else, and few of the teens sound like teens.

With a little more line editing, this could be a pretty good story, and I think, with time and experience, this author will develop a writing style that does not detract so much from what is an otherwise compelling story.

I give him three stars for this first effort.

Review of ‘Molly the Mole’

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Moles are solitary creatures. With bad eyesight, they live alone in underground burrows. Molly, though, was different. She was white instead of brown, she could see quite well, and she didn’t like living alone. She set out to find a friend, and made friends with a small, gray field mouse, which led to some amazing adventures.

Molly the mole, written and illustrated by Bat Oren, is a cute little book that would be good to share with young non-readers, or early readers. The author skillfully addresses the fact that differences should not matter. The illustrations are interesting, although somewhat repetitive. The use of crayon or chalk in executing the drawings should encourage young artists, and shows the versatility of this medium.

I give this book three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Blood Money: The Method and Madness of Assassins’

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In the comfort of our suburban homes, probably the last thing on our minds is the danger that we might become the target of a contract killer. These low-level thugs who kill for money, though, are more common than the average person realizes. In Blood Money: The Method and Madness of Assassins, author R. J. Parker examines the history of assassins, and how they’ve worked through the centuries. He traces the use of murder-for-hire from biblical times to the present day, with historical profiles of some of the most prolific assassins.

A book that will chill you—as he points out that a significant number of contract murders are arranged by people for revenge or money rather than being related to organized crime—and, hopefully, educate you to the reality of the world in which we live.

Repetitive in places, the prose is a bit choppy, but, the subject is handled with a researcher’s skill. Of particular interest is the author’s analysis of how popular media, TV and movies, portrays professional assassins, and how far the portrayals are from reality.

If you have a strong stomach, but and inquiring mind, it’s a worthwhile read. I give it four stars.

The solar eclipse wows the Big Apple

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Asnycnow Radio

Viewing the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse on Park Avenue, NYC>

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Review of ‘Murder is only a Number’

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DCI Isaac Cook and his team are after a woman who is stalking London, killing men, and carving a number in each victim’s chest. They know the identity of the killer, but are unable to ascertain her motive, or find her. Cook is on the hot seat, at odds with a new commissioner at the Met, who is after him as much as the killer.

Murder is only a Number by Phillip Strang is the third book in the DCI Cook thriller series. The author takes the reader step-by-bloody-step through a chilling tale of murder and revenge, with a background of bureaucratic intrigue, that will keep you flipping pages until the end.

This is a bit more disturbing than the first two books in the series, but it provides more background on the main protagonist, as it explores his struggles with balancing his professional and personal lives. The antagonist is chillingly portrayed, but with a measure of empathy that makes her supremely real—and, all the more frightening.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Sister Witchcraft’

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Mimi AuClair moved from L.A. back to her home town of Lafay to reopen her grandmother’s tea shop. Her older sister, Sybil, is not too happy about the prospect, much preferring that her two younger sisters not upset her nice, normal suburban existence with her husband and two young daughters. To add to Mimi’s problems, the Jigg sisters, owners of the town’s other tea shop, are determined to prevent the competition. The Jigg sisters, Mimi learns, are witches, who also are on the town council, and are willing to go to great lengths to sabotage her grand opening. She’s not completely helpless, though, being a witch herself, and from a long line of witches, and she has her grandmother’s familiar, a wise-cracking black cat, to help her. Things go awry when a customer, the town troublemaker, dies from poison at the opening, and the police, at first, suspect her.

Sister Witchcraft by J.D. Winters and Dakota Kahn is a short book; it can be read in less than an hour; that is thoroughly delightful. An interesting cast of characters, and scenes that would play extremely well in an animated movie, will make you wish it was even longer.

I read this book on a dreary, rainy day. The weather and witchcraft gave me goose pimples, but Mimi’s antics kept me laughing. If you’re looking for a short, entertaining read, get this book.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Loose Ends’

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A young girl is kidnapped in broad daylight. Her mother hires California ‘Cal’ Corwin, an ex-cop turned PI, to find her. As Cal delves into the case, she finds herself in a face-off with a shadowy crime figure, and family secrets that someone might kill to keep secret.

Loose Ends by D. D. VanDyke is a fun read, with plenty of action, and a flawed protagonist who must struggle with her own demons as she works to rescue the kidnap victim before she becomes just another statistic, and others die. Hard-nosed dialogue and colorful settings will keep you reading until the climax. Corwin is a character that you might not like too much, but you’ll find yourself hard-pressed not to cheer for her as she fumbles and stumbles her way through a case that’s not what it seems at first.

I give VanDyke four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Big Numbers’

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Stockbroker Austin Carr is about to be killed in a most unusual way, he’s strapped into a deep-sea fishing rig, trussed and helpless, and about to be dragged to a watery grave by a giant bluefin tuna. In what’s also a somewhat unusual technique, the author, without identifying Carr’s assailant, flashes back three weeks and takes the reader through the events leading up to this in media res opening.

The reader learns that Carr’s wise mouth and often questionable choices during this time has created a rather long list of people who might want him dead, and it’s only as one approaches the last third of the book that the identity of the would-be killer becomes apparent, from which point, the story proceeds to a fairly satisfying conclusion.

Big Numbers by Jack Getze is the premiere offering in a mystery series about a wise-cracking stockbroker who can’t stay out of trouble, and who is just one step away from being a ‘broke’ stockbroker. The main character is flawed, and all too human, thus loveable, and the setting adds to the story.

An entertaining story. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Murder at the Bellamy Mansion’

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Historic preservationist Ashley Wilkes, honeymooning with her husband, Jon, agrees to take on the job of restoring the historic Bellamy Mansion. What should be a routine job turns deadly when a sniper shoots one of her contractors, and later, a body is found in the mansion’s old cistern. Someone’s stalking anyone trying to preserve the old mansion, but can Ashley determine who before she becomes the next victim?

Murder at the Bellamy Mansion by Ellen Elizabeth Hunter is a slow-paced, yet tense mystery, that moves with a southern rhythm, but stings like a yellow jacket. The settings are well limned, and the characters, from my own experience in that region of the country, credible.

This makes for a nice weekend read. I give it four stars.


Review of ‘Transitory’

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Nate Maddox, taking a well-earned holiday on a distant moon, is reliving events from his past, when a stranger with murderous intent interrupts his vacation. With the help of mysterious strangers, he tries to determine the identity and motives of the killer, while evading him, only to learn that his true enemy is closer than he’d ever thought.

Transitory by Ian Williams is fun-to-read, escapist entertainment. Great dialogue and interesting action, and the aliens are intriguing—though their motives are a bit difficult to define. A good way to spend a lazy afternoon.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘A Dog’s View of Love, Life and Death’

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A Dog’s View of Love, Life and Death by J.R. Archer is a multi-layered book. On the surface, it’s a collection of stories of man’s best friends and how we relate to our canine companions. Below the surface, though, is a complex dissection of the roles that animals play in our lives and us in theirs, coupled with philosophical and ethical questions that readers must answer for themselves. There is a premise in the book that animals communicate telepathically, not only with each other, but with humans, who might or might not realize it. The author provides the ‘voices’ of the animals in a way that makes sense, and the way they communicate ranges from the seemingly basic and instinctive, to intellectually evolved. These are animals that are at once in our service, but also portrayed as more advanced, and more at peace. The themes in this book are heavy, and the reader should expect to run the full gamut of emotions. Evoking the deepest of existential quandaries through the eyes of our four-legged friends, J.R. Archer has crafted a tale that will be easily relatable while making you ask the tough questions.

The book is well-written and well-edited, and the characters are well-drawn. The humans in the book are at varying stages in their lives, and each is facing a conflict of personal struggle of some kind. The role that dogs play in their lives is different for each, but the dogs often take on the position of empathetic but removed observer, asking spiritual questions and pontificating on the motivations and fears of their ‘masters.’ I put ‘masters’ in quotes because, as previously mentioned, this book will make you ask who the truly evolved life form is. The setting compliments the chaotic nature of the humans’ world, and Archer paints a New York City that is bustling and unforgiving. The stories move along at a quick pace, and it was easy to get through several in a sitting. While the subject matter is tough, the book itself is digestible. This is a book that will grab your attention, but refuses to hold your hand. While each character’s story arc ends in a satisfying conclusion, readers will find that many of the queries raised in the book will have to be answered by the readers themselves. While this is a book that will appeal most to animal lovers, there is something here for everyone. This is easily a five-star read.

I received a free copy of this book.

Review of ‘Cleaver Square’

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On a bleak winter day, the body of a child is found near the Old River Lea. As DCI David Morton struggles to identify the dead child, he finds himself torn between doing what’s right and what’s legal.

Cleaver Square by Daniel Campbell and Sean Campbell is the second book in the DCI Morton series, and it continues the great storytelling that was the hallmark of the first book. Intense drama and thought-provoking situations will keep you reading, and will make you think.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Blank’

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Lincoln Delabar was born without a face; quite literally, a smooth expanse on the front of his head, with only two holes where his nostrils would be, through which he breathes and takes sustenance, liquids which he cannot taste. But, as with all things, when a door closes, a window opens. Lincoln, or Blank, as his father dubbed him, has other abilities. He can sense electrical energy, enabling him to ‘see’ things around him, and he can ‘connect’ with people who touch his face, an action which enables a two-way sharing of memories.

As Linc, his favored name, reaches puberty, he develops friends and contacts beyond his mother and sister—his father having deserted the family because of his inability to cope with both Linc’s deformity and his power—including his uncle, Joey, who is hiding some dark secret, Tuck, a neighborhood boy with whom he develops a close and enduring friendship, and a girl who is able to look past his lack of a face and see the real him.

But, he has enemies, too. People who hate him for what he is, and those who fear him for his ability to ‘see’ them.

Blank by Richard C. Hale is not your usual novel. While all its main characters are teens, the theme is decidedly adult, as they struggle with a serial rapist/killer, drug dealers, and high school bullies who sometimes go way too far. It’s tempting to call it a coming-of-age novel, but it’s not that either. What it is; a darn interesting and intriguing read, handled in such a way that you find yourself believing that such a creature could actually exist.

A five-star premiere to what I predict will be a series that will acquire a cult following.

Review of ‘Sons of My Fathers’

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With General Sherman’s Union forces closing on Atlanta, 19-year-old Ulysses Simpson and his father, Bayliss, on leave from their Confederate units, set out to avenge the death of a younger member of their family slain by a band of deserters, an action that sets the Simpson clan on a course that will have a significant impact on future generations.

A hundred years later, Ron Simpson, having enlisted in the army during the Vietnam War, and trained as a helicopter pilot, traumatized by news of the massacre by US forces at My Lai, is faced with a decision—does he honor his oath to serve his country, no matter what, or does he follow his own conscience, and his desire not to kill.

Sons of My Fathers by Michael A. Simpson is a mostly true, multi-generation, family saga that explores the stress that can be put on a family when personal values conflict with the expectations of society or the organization to which a person belongs. Using the backdrop of the Civil War, a conflict that pitted brother against brother, and threatened to fracture the nation, the author contrasts that period with the Vietnam War at the height of the anti-war movement, when citizens began to question the wisdom and integrity of those elected to lead the nation. Using historical sources and family recollections, Simpson takes the reader inside the internal conflicts that rage when the decisions and orders from those in leadership veer from the personal moral codes of individuals, and show the need of individuals to take personal responsibility for their decisions and actions.

In today’s climate of moral ambiguity and political uncertainty, this book is food for thought. In addition, it’s a highly compelling read that shows the personal anguish of war and its impact on those called upon to fight; providing lessons that can help navigate the treacherous waters that we face, not just in war, but in every facet of life.

I received a free copy of this book, and found that, once I started reading, I was unable to put it down. This is not just a war story, nor is it your typical coming-of-age novel. It’s a blueprint for living a life that has meaning, and being able to respect the one person who really matters in life—yourself.

Without hesitation, I give it five stars.